One of the most recognizable and celebrated voices in the world of pop, Adele’s reputation is one that few musicians will ever match. Her landmark second album, “21,” released in 2011, had one chart-topping single after another, from “Rolling in the Deep” to “Set Fire to the Rain.” This crop of songs became one of the most era-defining pop records of the past decade, placing Adele in the highest echelon of pop stardom. Despite only releasing one other album since then, 2015’s “25,” Adele has maintained her status as a household name 10 years after exploding onto the scene.
On Friday the songstress released “30,” an album which, for the most part, sticks the landing in expanding the singer’s quality, yet trim, catalogue. The album comes after a tumultuous period in Adele’s life, in which the singer went through a public and traumatic divorce which she has said caused her terrible panic attacks. This album has plenty of vulnerable moments that reflect the pain and self-doubt someone goes through when dealing with such a heavy situation.
Adele’s strength has always been her standout voice, and her previous albums have heavily relied on it, almost to a fault. The instrumentals were never anything to write home about. The basic piano and string arrangements that make up nearly every one of her songs are merely there to fill up any space that Adele’s voice doesn’t consume.
The new album has the most variance across the track list of any Adele release thus far, in both Adele’s vocals and her production choices. While I’m not crazy about some of the directions she chose to go in, more often than not it’s a home run.
Take “My Little Love,” a 6 ½-minute song filled with chilling background hums and an 808 drum beat over which Adele sings to her son Angelo. The song features numerous short interludes of Angelo responding to Adele, questioning her feelings for him and reflecting
Adele’s own doubts about how she expresses her emotions.
It is a potent moment that cleverly illustrates the album’s theme of Adele’s self-doubt and confusion over what she wants and how she feels about the decisions she’s made during her 30 years. Lyrics like “My little love / Tell me, do you feel the way my past aches? / When you lay on me, can you hear the way my heart breaks?” are soul-crushing, loaded with the trauma that comes with a painful past.
Another heartbreaker on the album is “To Be Loved,” the penultimate track. This song also clocks in at nearly seven minutes, and it might be the best performance Adele has ever given. The sheer sorrowful bravado that cuts through the skeletal piano melody is tear-inducing. Adele’s voice is on a level that most pop artists cannot touch, and this track is ample proof of the elegant power she can wield when she is performing to her highest potential.
There is plenty of praise to go around for the majority of the tracks on “30.” However, some eyebrow-raising choices went into a few songs. The decision to go with a Motown- and Reggae-infused number on the track “Cry Your Heart Out” is certainly a head scratcher, and the electronic alteration to Adele’s voice on the chorus becomes insufferable before the end of the first listen.
Another genre fusion that does not go over any better is the gospel- yet also dance-tinged “Oh My God,” which would have sounded dated if it were released in 2014, let alone 2021. Adele also suffers from a lack of inspiration on the lyrical front on songs like “Can I Get it,” for which she decided to repeat the phrase a few times and turn it into the chorus.
Despite a few track list blemishes, “30” has plenty of highlights that make the nearly six-year wait since the release of “25” worthwhile. While she may not be dominating the radio like she was back in 2011, Adele’s abilities as a singer and songwriter have not dwindled since her commercial prime, proving her longevity as a pop star.