Adele’s monumental success has always been founded on her ability to tell us a story. From the youthful takes on crushes on the cusp of adulthood in 19, to the reflective break-up ballads of 25, her latest album 30 is no exception. Each of her records presents a relatable retelling of a particular period of her life and the struggles that lie therein. On 30, Adele recounts the unravelling of her marriage; as she so succinctly put it during an Instagram live session, the album is about “divorce babe, divorce”. The opening track ‘Strangers By Nature’ combines Disney-like strings and harmonies with haunting illustrative lyrics that match its minor key. “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart”; the first lyric aptly introduces the listener to the themes of love, loss, and growth that will unfold over the next 58 minutes, as she tells us the tale of this chapter of her life.
Adele proves that she is still a master of the emotional ballad on 30. ‘Easy on Me’ is the singer’s classic combo of beseeching lyrics, full vocals, and a rich ballad piano backing. However, as the album progresses, we see her introduce more intimate elements to her fine-tuned ballad formula. Addressed to her son, ‘My Little Love’ includes audio verité recordings of her discussing her divorce with her son and personal reflections on the process of leaving a long-term partner. It is these extra touches that signal this album as her most personal to date.
While Adele certainly seeks to push boundaries on 30, there are times where this experimentation bears rotten fruits.
Perhaps the most applaudable achievement of 30 is its ability to convey feeling lost, confused, like a shell of oneself “hanging on by a thread” (‘Cry Your Heart Out’). And she achieves this all without painting the ‘good and bad guy’ archetypes of classic break-up songs. She seems to crack the break-up ballad code in ‘I Drink Wine’. Self-reflective lyrics like “I hope I learn to get over myself / And stop trying to be somebody else” show her concluding that the breakdown of the relationship was due to both parties ultimately changing. Similarly, ‘I Drink Wine’ is a rightly-heralded honest look back on her relationship. I can certainly imagine myself doing it no justice by singing in front of the audience of my mirror and empty bottles of red.
While Adele certainly seeks to push boundaries on 30, there are times where this experimentation bears rotten fruits. The fifth track, ‘Oh My God’ lets down a record that was off to a winning start, as tacky pop hallmarks haunt the could-be hit. Similarly, little can help ‘Can I Get It’. The song seems out of place and abrupt, attempting a bizarre cross-genre mash-up of a looming guitar ballad and what could easily be a sample from Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle’. Listen to the two excerpts side by side, and the resemblance is uncanny.
Despite these poorly executed attempts, Adele shows us that she can create blissful genre fusions in ‘All Night Parking’. She mixes the jazz arpeggios of Erroll Garner with a modern lo-fi beat, paired with perfectly crafted lyrics recounting the early stages of love. ‘All Night Parking’ is a veritable diamond in the rough.
30 is a journey of growth and reflection, a project in which Adele tentatively pushes at the boundaries of her ever-successful formula.
As much as the prayer-like vocals and lyrics of ‘Hold On’ seem to be the emotional peak, all expectations are thwarted by ‘To Be Loved’. I listened to this during a car ride, and the fact that three women in their early twenties were able to sit in silence for seven minutes speaks volumes about the control Adele wields over us in this ballad. Beginning with a tinkling piano scale, and sustaining raspy and yearning vocals over a bare piano backing, Adele gives an unfiltered insight into what the journey of love has meant to her. ‘To Be Loved’ is the biggest piece of therapy that the album offers: vulnerable and unapologetic, yet determined and self-assured.
Kind enough not to leave us in emotional wreckage after ‘To Be Loved’, Adele gives us a hand up in ‘Love Is A Game’ – a true old-Hollywood, end-of-the-show ballad, where she concludes the bittersweet tale. 30 is Adele’s most mature, intimate, and reflective storytelling to date. Not only does 30 narrate this chapter of her life, it offers advice from the lessons the singer-songwriter learned along the way, existing not only as a record but also as an inspirational handbook for heartbreak. 30 is a journey of growth and reflection, a project in which Adele tentatively pushes at the boundaries of her ever-successful formula. The success of this comes in peaks and troughs, but her overriding message still rings true: “All love is devout, no feeling is a waste”.
WE RECOMMEND: ‘I Drink Wine’