Tissues at the ready everyone, Adele has turned 30.
Well, she’s actually 33, but started working on her latest record, 30, in 2018, hence the title. It is her fourth studio album, and continues the trend of her records referencing her age, following 19, 21 and 25.
30 is a carefully-curated story of Adele’s life since her divorce. Once it’s over, you understand her request to streaming platforms to remove the option of shuffling her album. From start to finish, you feel everything Adele wants you to feel.
It is expertly produced, with Adele able to seamlessly blend her unthinkable vocal range with the rawness that is intrinsic to human emotion.
Lyrically, she continues to tug at the heart strings. The sound and the feel of the album, however, is totally different, and is perhaps Adele’s most ambitious yet. And with that, it might just be her most impressive.
30 is shatteringly sad. Throughout the record, Adele navigates the complex emotions associated with her divorce, and the feeling that she is failing her son.
Immediately, we are presented with the idea that she is not over her divorce. In the record’s second track and lead single, Easy On Me, Adele addresses her son about his parents’ separation: “Go easy on me, baby / I was still a child / Didn’t get the chance to / Feel the world around me.“
In fact, the whole album is meant for her son. Speaking to Vogue, she said: “I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness.”
In My Little Love, Adele takes us on a turbulent journey of anxiety and helplessness. “I’m having a bad day, I’m have a very anxious day…I feel very paranoid…very stressed,” she sobs in a spoken section.
It is also during this track that you get a sense of how much she worries about the effect of her divorce on her son, as we are reminded in the chorus: “I’m holdin’ on (Barely) / Mama’s got a lot to learn (It’s heavy) I’m holdin’ on (Catch me) / Mama’s got a lot to learn (Teach me).”
By the end, however, there is a sense that Adele is starting to make sense of her feelings. In Cry Your Heart Out, she wisely asserts: “Cry your heart out / It’ll clean your face / when you’re in doubt / go at your own pace…no feeling is a waste.“
Emotion is what Adele is able to communicate best. While it is perhaps the saddest record she has released, that offers little surprise. What is more surprising, however, is the sound of the album.
If you were to remove her vocals – unthinkable, I know – the same sense of sadness probably wouldn’t be reflected in the instrumentation.
Blues, soul and jazz aren’t exactly new inspirations for Adele, but in 30, they feel more prominent. In All Night Parking, she samples the late jazz pianist Erroll Garner in what feels rather impressive for a mere interlude.
The record’s opener, Strangers By Nature, is produced by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, most famous for sound-tracking multi-million dollar blockbusters such as Black Panther and Tenet.
All of this amounts to Adele stepping out of her comfort zone. This can only be a good thing, especially after the valid criticism that this record’s predecessor, 25, offered more of the same.