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!
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