It may be tempting to liken Adele’s release of 30 to Lorde’s move to Solar Power – an artist thought to be thoroughly melancholic moves to songs of empowerment in a new album dropped suddenly after years of silence. But though Adele’s tempo may be up, 30 is no less emotionally resonant than her previous three records.
Ever since the smash success of her second album, 21, Adele has always stood somewhat apart from the rest of the music industry. She stays completely out of the spotlight when she’s not actively releasing or promoting music. Each drop disrupts the entire industry as everyone scrambles to conform to her returning presence. Famously, in November of 2015, the rumored release of 25 caused four artists (Ellie Goulding, Little Mix, One Direction and Justin Bieber) to change release dates of their albums to not have to fight over sales with this industry juggernaut. For 30, Taylor Swift moved the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) to avoid fighting for chart spots.
In a 90-minute interview with Oprah, Adele explained her impetus for creating 30 and the major themes behind it. As she said in the interview, “I promised myself that when I had kids that we’d stay together […] I was so disappointed for my son. I was so disappointed for myself.”
The dissolution of her marriage with Simon Konecki, her ensuing disappointment in the failed marriage and complex ideas of motherhood hang heavy over the entirety of the album. This theme of disappointment for her son is most clearly explored in the third track, “My Little Love,” which contends for Adele’s best song ever. It is truly one of the most vulnerable songs I have ever heard. Despite listening to this track dozens of times, the relentless barrage of emotional sucker punches has not left me with dry eyes once. The calmly melodic tune and her deep lyrics do their job to carry you between voice memos of Adele with her son. “I love your dad ‘cause he gave you to me / You’re half me and you’re half daddy,” she says.
Echoing the above quote from the Oprah interview, Adele sings, “I wanted you to have everything I never had / I’m so sorry if what I’ve done makes you feel sad.” The experience of hearing this six-minute song is near-indescribable. Just listen to it, for your own sake.
While there are only 12 songs on the album, 30 clocks in at a cool 58-minute runtime with an average song length just shy of five minutes. Four tracks easily break the 6-minute mark, but despite their length, the album as a whole never drags – each song's length is purposeful and deserved.
Another standout track is “Woman Like Me.” It really represents the new Adele while calling back to the old. The name is a direct inversion of her previously most iconic track, “Someone Like You,” the contrast representing how Adele has grown as a lyricist and performer. The tempo is down and she is still lamenting the past, but far from old Adele, “Woman Like Me” is jazzy and incredibly dark. The track conjures images of long, shadowy nights, driving through a downtown lit by street lamps as she sings one of her most vicious songs, chastising her soon-to-be ex. She’s focusing on her own self-worth rather than settling for someone like her ex: “I don't think you quite understand who you have on your hands / How can you not see just how good for you I am?”
The album inevitably has its issues as Adele inhabits a new musical style. Tracks four through six attempt to be almost pop songs and some are more successful than others. “Cry Your Heart Out” stands out as sounding like an artist attempting pop who has never done pop before. The mantra of the song, present in the chorus, is “Cry your heart out, it’ll clean your face.” Though I understand what she was going for, this is the low point of the album thanks to a melody that would feel more at home in a Toyotathon commercial than an Adele album.
Adele’s style is so distinct she had felt trapped in it. She’s mentioned in interviews that she felt that 21 had been somewhat taken from her: “I always say that 21 doesn’t belong to me anymore. Everyone else took it into their hearts so much.” On 30, she's proved she can move past this. The album will be looked back upon as a near-perfect example of how an artist can grow over time and show that through her music.
She wanted to create an album that represented her in the most honest way possible, and she completely succeeded. 30 calls back to her old work, but, unlike 25, it felt like entirely a fresh product of real emotions stemming from her new situation. It is quite possibly the most vulnerable and raw album I have ever heard. There are some missteps that come with taking real risks, but altogether, 30 serves as a triumphant return for Adele.