REVIEW: ‘30’ is Adele’s saddest, most vulnerable yet

Adele’s ’30’ gives us a look into her experience with divorce with through a new, different sound compared to her previous works. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Records)

On Oct. 1, the world got its first hint that Adele was back. After six long years without an album, mysterious billboards displaying “30” cropped up in major cities around the world. Adele’s hiatus was finally broken when her sing “Easy On Me” dropped Oct. 15 and subsequently took over the airwaves.

“Easy On Me” is the most traditional Adele song on “30”’s 12-song tracklist. It features much of her past hits’ unrestrained belting and simple yet elegant piano production. Much of the other 11 songs are infused with more R&B and soul elements than Adele has explored before. Lyrically, “30” is much more raw than her past efforts. The album’s lyrical content is influenced by her 2019 divorce from Simon Konecki and the difficulties of explaining it to their nine-year-old son, Angelo.

Exemplifying this new direction, the album’s saddest song is “My Little Love.” Adele pens an open letter to her son, “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),” she sings on the chorus. 

However, nothing can compare to the heart-wrenching emotions conveyed by the short voice memo conversations she has with her son that are scattered sporadically throughout the song. “Mummy’s been having a lot of big feelings recently / Like how? / Just, like, hang on, my fingers are trapped / Like, um, I feel a bit confused / Why? / I don’t know / And I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing / Oh, at all? / At all,” Adele confesses. “Tell me you love me / I love you a million percent.”

“30” strays away from Adele’s tried-and-true formula. She experiments with strikingly different and new sounds on “Oh My God.” Its production has an almost electronically infused humming backdrop which is complimented perfectly by Adele’s attention-grabbing vocals as she flits back and forth between her softer head voice and the sheer power of her belt. “Maybe, baby, I’m just losing my mind / ‘Cause this is trouble, but it feels right / Teetering on the edge of Heaven and Hell / Is a battle that I cannot fight,” Adele sings about trying to be true to herself and protect her marriage as the uptempo, pop-infused, staccato claps that accompany the chorus pull listeners back into the verses.

“Can I Get It” is one of the most upbeat songs, lyrically and instrumentally, on “30.” Accompanied by guitar strumming and thumping drums, its chorus is infectious and poppy and is my best guess for “30”’s next radio takeover.

“Easy On Me” has already spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. “30” is projected to sell over a million units in its first week, and will be the first album to do so since Taylor Swift’s “reputation” in 2017. It’s clear that Adele remains a pop culture phenomenon, but her impact is felt far outside the bounds of chart performance.

Less than a week after its release, we are already feeling the effects of “30”’s rollout. Spotify announced on the morning of Nov. 20 that they had updated their software. When playing an album, the default is now for the tracks to play in order, as opposed to on shuffle, because of Adele’s feedback.

Though soaring, production-heavy tracks in the likes of “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep” are missing from “30,” they’re only briefly missed. We get a new Adele, an Adele who honestly opens up and expresses her unfiltered emotions, an Adele who draws inspiration from calmer R&B tracks instead of pop powerhouses. It’s not the Adele we were expecting, but seeing her evolve as an artist over 10 years into her career is fulfilling and exciting. There’s no telling where she’ll go next, but, luckily, we have the emotionally complex, musically different “30” to explore in great depth until then. We might have to wait awhile for new music though, “See you in seven years,” she joked when promoting the album on Vogue’s 73 questions.