Adele’s New Album 30 Is a Powerful Pop Revelation

Not in a million years did I ever think I was going to write a post to review an album by Adele – not to mention characterizing it as a “powerful pop revelation!” I bet many frequent visitors of my blog didn’t see this coming either. Well, I suppose music sometimes can work in mysterious ways!

On closer scrutiny, perhaps my take is only partially surprising. After all, I’ve said many times how much I dig great vocals, and there’s no doubt in mind Adele is one of the most compelling contemporary vocalists. But one could also point to other examples like Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, and I’m not exactly jumping up and down about their music. So what’s going on here? Actually, it’s faily simple: Prompted by all the buzz this album has generated, I listened to 30 over the weekend, and it just drew me in!

While I resumed paying attention to new music about 1.5 years ago and launched my weekly Best of What’s New series, I still pretty much ignore the mainstream charts and the artists grabbing the top spots there. In the case of Adele, I didn’t track the weeks leading up to the release of 30, but only a person living under a rock could have completed missed it.

This recent USA Today story lays out the elaborate PR campaign to create buzz leading up to November 19, the day the album dropped. Some of the elements included the October 15th release of lead single Easy On Me, the November 1 revelation of the album’s official tracklist, and the November 14 CBS special Adele One Night Only. The latter featured three then-still-unheard tunes from 30, along with other songs from previous Adele albums, as well as an interview with Oprah Winfrey. As reported by entertainment outlet Deadline, the TV special attracted 11.7 million viewers, surpassing the 2021 Oscars!

Adele One Night Only

30 is Adele’s fourth studio album and her first new release in six years after 25. From the very first line of the opener Strangers By Nature, it becomes evident 30 is very personal. Adele tackles heavy subjects like divorce, motherhood and the pitfalls of fame, and she doesn’t hold back. No question this was part of the reason why I started paying close attention as I was listening to these tracks for the first time. I simply had not expected this!

Adele co-wrote all of the songs, working with various songwriters and producers, especially Greg Kurstin and Dean Wynton Josiah Cover, professionally known as Inflo. Her extensive involvement in songwriting is actually nothing new and was also the case on her previous albums. But it’s something I had not realized since I never cared to check! I have a lot of respect for music artists who write their songs; even more so, if they also are true musicians. Adele plays acoustic guitar and, according to Wikipedia, performed acoustic sets early in her career. She also played guitar and bass on some of the songs on her 2008 debut album 19 – again something that was new to me!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the aforementioned opener Strangers By Nature, co-written by Adele (credited by her full name Adele Adkins) and Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and producer. Like most other tracks on 30, the song is on the quiet side. It starts with I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart, the above line that got my attention. The fact it sounds like music from an old movie isn’t a coincidence. “I’d watched the Judy Garland biopic,” Adele told Zane Lowe during an extended interview for Apple Music. “And I remember thinking, ‘Why did everyone stop writing such incredible melodies and cadences and harmonies?'”

Next up is the album’s above-mentioned lead single Easy On Me. Co-written by Adele and Kurstin, the powerful tune is about Adele’s fraught childhood, her lost marriage and the lessons learnt and unlearnt about family, love and abandonment along the way, noted British Vogue. “My son [Angelo James – CMM] has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for,” Adele told Vogue. “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. It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.” This is tough and authentic-sounding stuff, and it evidently resonated. The Washington Post reported Easy On Me set new streaming records on Spotify and Amazon Music.

Perhaps the most personal tune and the one that touched me the most is My Little Love, another song Adele wrote for her son Angelo. It features excerpts from conversations between Adele and the young boy who was born in October 2012, as well as voice memos she recorded to capture her struggles with the situation. Frankly, it’s a tear-jerker some people might find a bit too intense, but I think it’s pretty powerful. Call me crazy, the soft music almost reminds me of something Marvin Gaye could have recorded. I just find this incredible!

30 isn’t all about sorrow and regret. One example is Can I Get It, which picks up the tempo and with some whistling in the chorus sounds more upbeat. Adele created this song together with Swedish songwriters and producers Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster, known as Shellback. The lyrics are a clear indication Adele is ready to move on from her recent divorce. Pave me a path to follow/And I’ll tread any dangerous road/I will beg and I’ll steal, I will borrow/If I can make, if I can make your heart my home…In fact, Adele recently started dating American sports agent Rich Paul. Musically speaking, the tune isn’t so much my cup of tea, but it nicely breaks up an otherwise largely somber album.

The last track I’d like to call out is Hold On, one of the co-writes with Inflo. It’s another reflective tune but with a silver lining. “I definitely lost hope a number of times that I’d ever find my joy again,” Adele told Apple Music about the song. “But I didn’t realize I was making progress until I wrote ‘Hold On’ and listened to it back. Later, I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve come a long way.”

Before wrapping up this post, it feels right to give Adele the final word about this remarkable album: “I was certainly nowhere near where I’d hoped to be when I first started it nearly 3 years ago,” she wrote on her website. “Quite the opposite actually…I’ve learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way…It was my ride or die throughout the most turbulent period of my life. When I was writing it, it was my friend who came over with a bottle of wine and a takeaway to cheer me up…I’ve painstakingly rebuilt my house and my heart since then and this album narrates it.”

I think we’ve just witnessed the release of an album that is going to dominate the charts, will be included in many year-end lists, and win a bunch of Grammys next year. This would add to the 33-year-old’s impressive accomplishments to date. According to Wikipedia, Adele has sold more than 120 million records, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Her sophomore release 21 was certified 17 X Platinum in the UK, and became the world’s best-selling album of the 21st century in 2011 with over 31 million sold copies. Adele’s accolades include 15 Grammy Awards and nine Brit Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia; USA Today; Deadline; Apple Music; British Vogue; The Washington Post; Adele website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature on the blog. For first time visitors, the idea of The Sunday Six is to celebrate music in a random fashion, six tracks at a time. It could literally be anything from the past 60 years or so, in any order. My only “rule” is I have to like it. That’s consistent with my overall approach for this blog to write about music I dig. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Neil Cowley/Circulation

I’d like to start with Neil Cowley, an English contemporary pianist and composer I first included in a Sunday Six installment back in March. Born in London in November 1972, Cowley began as a classical pianist and already performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall as a ten-year-old. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts, including  Mission ImpossibleThe Brand New HeaviesGabrielle and Zero 7. It appears his first album Displaced was released in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. Fourteen additional albums featuring Cowley as band leader or co-leader have since come out. He has also worked as a sideman for Adele and various other artists. Circulation is another track from Cowley’s most recent solo album Hall of Mirrors released in March this year. This is very relaxing piano-driven music with elements of ambient electronics.

Cream/Crossroads

After a mellow start, here’s something crunchy from one of my favorite ’60s British rock bands: Cream. Featuring Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Jack Bruce (bass, vocals) and Ginger Baker (drums, vocals), they were a true supergroup. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising they broke up after just a little over two years. In fact, given the bad, sometimes physical fights between the volatile Mr. Baker and Bruce, it’s a miracle they lasted that long – not to mention the fact they still managed to record four amazing albums. One of my favorite Cream tunes is their remake of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, which he first recorded as Cross Road Blues in May 1937. Clapton did a neat job in rearranging the acoustic Delta blues. Cream’s version appeared on the live record of their double LP Wheels of Fire. Their third album was first released in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK two months later.

The Jayhawks/She Walks In So Many Ways

Lately, I’ve started exploring The Jayhawks. I first came across the alt. country and country rock band about a year ago after the release of their most recent album XOXO in July 2020. The Jayhawks were initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985. After seven records, they went on hiatus in 2014 and reemerged in 2019. She Walks In So Many Ways is a track off their eighth studio album Mockingbird Time from September 2011. It marked the return of original frontman Mark Olson (guitar, vocals), reuniting him Gary Louris (guitar, vocals), another co-founder. Not only did they co-write all songs on the album, but they also delivered great harmony vocals. The other members at the time included co-founder Marc Perlman (bass), together with Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals) and Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals). All remain with the band’s current line-up except for Olson who left again in the fall of 2012. She Walks In So Many Ways has a nice Byrds vibe – my kind of music!

Lenny Kravitz/Are You Gonna Go My Way

Let’s turn to Lenny Kravitz, who first entered my radar in late 1991 when I coincidentally listened to his sophomore album Mama Said in a restaurant in France. My brother-in-law asked the waiter about the music, and the rest is history. I immediately got the CD after my return to Germany and have since listened to Kravitz on and off. While he has won various awards and, according to Wikipedia, sold more than 40 million albums worldwide during his 40-year career, success didn’t come easy – especially in the U.S. where initially Kravitz was told he didn’t sound “black enough” or “white enough”, and there was too much ’60s and Hendrix in his music. Jeez, that terrible guitarist Jimi Hendrix – what a bunch of crap! Anyway, here’s the title track of Kravitz’s third studio album from March 1993. Are You Gonna Go My Way was co-written by him and guitarist and longtime collaborator Craig Ross. I’ve always loved this cool kick-ass guitar riff.

The Police/Spirits in the Material World

Let’s jump to the ’80s and one of my favorite bands from that time, The P0lice. A visit of a tribute band music festival in Atlantic City last weekend brought the British trio of Sting (lead vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums) back on my radar screen. During their seven-year run from 1977 to 1984, The Police recorded five albums, a quite productive output. While I have a slight preference for their earlier rawer sound, I think there are great songs on all of their albums. Here’s one I dig from Ghost in the Machine, the band’s second-to-last record released in October 1981: Spirits in the Material World. I love Sting’s bassline on that track, as well as the synthesizer-driven reggae groove. According to Wikipedia, he wrote that tune on a Casio keyboard, his first experience with a synthesizer.

Pink Floyd/One of These Days

What, are we already at the sixth and final track? Just when I was fully getting warmed up! Don’t worry, I have every intention to continue this zig-zag music journey next Sunday. For now, I’d like to wrap it up with Pink Floyd and the opening track of Meddle. Their sixth studio album from October 1971 is one of my favorite Floyd records and yet another great album that’s turning 50 this year. I was tempted to feature Echoes but realize very few if any readers would likely to listen to a 23-minute-plus track, though I can highly recommend it! 🙂 Here’s One of These Days, credited to all four members of the band, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. I think it’s one of the best space rock instrumentals. That pumping double-tracked bass guitar part played by Gilmour and Waters is just great. The lovely line, “one of these days, I cut you into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason, and recorded using an effect device called a ring modulator, and slowed down to make it even more creepy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Boy, have I been looking forward to this Sunday! While spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, to me, the switch from standard to daylight savings time here in New Jersey and most U.S. states marks the unofficial beginning. Oh, in case I just reminded you and you had forgotten to adjust your watches, you’re welcome! 🙂 Sunday is fun day, so if you’re like me and in the mood for some music, I’ll invite you to read on and check out the clips. I think I put together a nice and diverse set of tracks.

Neil Cowley/Berlin Nights

Let’s kick it off with some beautiful ambient music by English contemporary pianist and composer Neil Cowley. Cowley was born in London in November 1972. He began as a classical pianist and already at the age of 10 performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts I don’t know, including Mission Impossible, The Brand New Heavies, Gabrielle and Zero 7. It looks like his first album Displaced appeared in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. He has since released 14 additional records as a band leader or co-leader. Cowley has also worked as a sideman for various other artists, most notably Adele. Berlin Nights, composed by Cowley, is from his new solo album Hall of Mirrors that appeared on March 5. I find it super relaxing and can literally see a city nightscape before my eyes while listening.

Randy Newman/Guilty

Randy Newman needs no introduction, though he certainly deserves more of my attention. Based on my relatively limited knowledge of his catalog, here is one of my favorites, Guilty, from his fourth studio album Good Old Boys released in September 1974. Written by Newman, the tune was first recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her third studio album Takin’ My Time from October 1973, an excellent cover!

Rosanne Cash/Good Intent

There is lots of talent in the Johnny CashJune Carter Cash family. This includes Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin. Sadly, I’ve yet to explore Rosanne Cash who started her recording career in 1978 with her eponymous solo album and has since released 13 additional studio albums. Good Intent, co-written by Cash and her longtime collaborator John Leventhal, is included on her 12th studio album Black Cadillac from January 2006. I absolutely love the warm sound of that song and Cash’s vocals. This is a true gem!

The Byrds/Goin’ Back

The Byrds have written so many amazing songs. I also don’t get tired of Rickenbacker maestro Roger McGuinn and his jingle-jangle guitar sound. While it’s perhaps not as well known as Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, I’ll Feel a Lot Better and Eight Miles High, Goin’ Back has become one of my absolute favorite tunes by The Byrds. It was wo-written by the songwriting powerhouse of Carole King and Gerry Goffin and is yet another reason why Carole King who is nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year should be inducted! Goin’ Back was first released by Dusty Springfield in July 1966, giving her a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Byrds included their rendition on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers from January 1968. It was less successful, peaking at no. 89 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and missing the charts in the UK altogether. Regardless, I think it’s a terrific tune with a beautiful atmosphere.

Kim Carnes/Mistaken Identity

Kim Carnes is best known for her cover of Bette Davis Eyes, her international smash hit from 1981. The American singer-songwriter’s recording career started 10 years earlier with her first release Rest on Me. More Love, a cover of a Smokey Robinson tune, brought Carnes her first successful U.S. single in 1980, hitting no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis Eyes the following year became the biggest hit of her career. It was part of Carnes’ sixth studio album Mistaken Identity from April 1981. Here’s the title track written by Carnes. I’ve always dug her husky vocals. BTW, now 75 years old, she still appears to be active.

The Beatles/I Saw Her Standing There

This Sunday Six installment has been on the softer side, so as I’m wrapping up, it’s time to step on the gas with a great rock & roll song by my favorite band of all time: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles. Primarily written by Paul McCartney, but as usual credited to him and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener of The Beatles’ UK debut album Please Please Me that came out in March 1963. In December of the same year, Capitol Records released the tune in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want to Hold Your Hand, the label’s first single by The Beatles. Ready? One, two, three, four…

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube