Adele on addiction and hard lessons

MUSIC THERAPY: Adele's newest album contains a few jabs at men.
MUSIC THERAPY: Adele's newest album contains a few jabs at men.

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins has a shortened professional name of Adele but a lengthy smoking habit, which has given her, despite her age of 22, a wheezy smoker's laugh already. It's a vice the Londoner is not in a hurry to ditch, no matter that her voice is an instrument, which has earned plaudits, sold impressively and won a Grammy.

But as new soul singers go, an addiction to the cancer sticks is down the list of problems you might expect these days. Certainly less of a worry than a fondness for variations of cocaine and certain opiates, a propensity for public disagreements with police in the wee small hours and a tendency towards equally disreputable male companions.

In other words, the kind of things that have you featured rather prominently in the tabloid press, something for which Adkins, who describes herself as fully involved in every decision in her career ("I go to all my meetings, even the strategy meetings where I don't need to be there at all and they really are pretty f---ing boring"), has little sympathy, as she explained to one American website last year.

"You can completely control it and I do not care what anyone else says," she said then. "Don't be an addict, don't be a crackhead, don't be a whore, basically."

Now, we wouldn't want to be suggesting she is referring to anyone with a beehive hairdo who may or may not answer to the name Amy but . . .

"My God," Adele laughs as I read the quote back to her. "I must have been drunk."

Is there any further life advice she could offer her contemporaries?

"It's not going to be as scandalous as the last one, sorry," she says. "Always go with your instincts, even if everybody else is saying something else. If something doesn't feel right, don't f---ing do it. That's something I've learnt a lot since we last met and I'm still learning it really."

When we first spoke in early 2008, shortly before the release of her debut album, 19, she said that being signed wasn't something she'd been working towards. She had written two songs when the label XL (also home to the White Stripes), approached her, hadn't planned anything further and wasn't going to start planning now.

But at what point do you have to start thinking strategically, planning rather than reacting? After awards and plenty of transatlantic smoke being blown up your English behind? When you start working on a second album? According to Adkins, maybe not even then.

"I lived with that first album a lot longer than other people did and I was totally over the relationship that record was about and I found it quite embarrassing, personally, that I was constantly singing the songs while my ex was off having fun and being like 'yeah, whatever' and I was reliving it," she says. "So I really needed to write new songs but I've never been able to say, 'right, Wednesday morning I'm writing a song'. Whenever I try to do that, nothing happens, it's quite heartbreaking."

The solution was firstly entering into "the most brilliant and committed and amazing relationship I've ever been in" and then ending it, all while taking in a lot of country, blues and gospel during a year on the road in the US. The results are heard on her just-released second album, 21, which unlike the second album from another new soul-singing Brit, Duffy, improves on its predecessor.

"I couldn't find it but I knew it was inside me bubbling away and I had to wait it out, waiting for me to be articulate about how I was feeling," Adkins says of the new songs. "I didn't have to overthink it and when it came out, it all came out."

Do the best songs come out of anger or sorrow? 21 has more than a few sharply angled pokes at men, or at least a certain man. Not to mention a few equally pointed jokes.

"The first album I wasn't really angry, I was just sad," Adkins says. "But [new song] Rolling in the Deep, I love because I felt really comfortable in that song, the fact that I'm angry and bemused."

There is even talk of moving to Nashville, a city which knows a thing or two about writing about heartbreak. Though whomever is to be her song-inspiring, next ex-boyfriend isn't evident yet.

"There's no one in my life apart from my f---ing dog these days," she says cheerfully. "Hopefully I won't need any more because I'm getting slightly worried that subconsciously when my album clock starts ticking I end up ending relationships."

21 is out now.

Sydney Morning Herald