Album Review: Adele // 30

Adele harnesses her otherwordly vocals to delve into experiences of guilt, self-doubt, depression and an eventually hopeful look to the future on 30.

Following a divorce, Adele found the strength to put all her emotions, big and small, into the music of her fourth studio album. Through all of it, the world-class singer found it most hard to keep her identity intact. 30 chronicles this struggle and the ways she found to cope and eventually get over the hill.

The inclusion of a couple of tracks overtly geared to please radio audiences might come as a surprise to long-time Adele fans: the singer-songwriter’s appeal and commercial success almost came orthogonally to the songs’ potential to succeed on their own prior to this new album. Adele’s impressive vocal performance propelled songs like “Rolling In The Deep” and “Hello” up the charts. Here, tracks like “Can I Get It” or “Oh My God” prefer an unwelcome genericity to the use of the full extent of her instrument. The Shellback and Max Martin-backed “Can I Get It” in particular sounds like it was written for anybody but Adele – five to ten years ago that is.

Those moments, fortunately, form a minority among the twelve-track collection. In fact, most songs on 30 are some of Adele’s most revealing and intimate tracks to date. “My Little Love” is a lush R&B ode to Adele’s son, Angelo, assisted by heartwrenching voice notes – including one where Angelo shares “I feel like you don’t love me” to a mother tethering on the edge of depression.

It is remarkable just how much Adele is willing to share with the world on this new album. 30 finds the singer incredibly (perhaps necessarily) hard on herself as she bounces back from separation. On “To Be Loved”, a piano ballad that is sure to become a staple of her catalogue for years to come, Adele sings: “it’s about time that I face myself / All I do is bleed into someone else”. “I Drink Wine” is another honest account of how the artist reacted to her relationship falling apart. She repeats “So I hope I learn to get over myself” throughout, asking perhaps more of herself than she would anyone else in that instant.

Producer Inflo (SAULT) plays an instrumental part in the album’s successes: all three tracks he had a hand in are among the most effective on 30. Adele is given room to shine on the cold “Woman Like Me” with a sparse accompaniment carried forward by ticking percussion and a meandering guitar that comes round to the comfort of the same motif time and time again. “Hold On” is another breathtaking collaboration with Inflo that reminds of the avant-soul flavours of SAULT vocalist Cleo Sol. Spirits are lifted as Adele synthesizes the oxymoronic situation she found herself in when writing the album. She asks, “How do I feel so mighty small / When I’m struggling to feel at all?”, englobing apathy as part of the post-traumatic emotional rollercoaster.

30 wouldn’t be complete without its glorious closer, “Love Is A Game” – another brainchild of Inflo and Adele. Every instrument falls into place, right in line behind Adele’s commandeering vocals. A sense of celebration is in the air as strings flourish like fireworks around the impressionist rolling credits. It’s the perfect ending to an album already destined to become one, if not the, biggest of 2021.

Rating

Adele’s fourth album, 30, is out today, and is available to purchase and stream now

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Red Dziri

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