For the past decade, Adele has been a breath of fresh air in the music scene. Her music has long been known for inducing tears, stirring anger, and raising goosebumps. When Adele first announced in 2019 that she was working on a new record, fans wondered if she could keep the momentum going from her previous records (19, 21, and 25). And now, after two years of waiting, we now know that she truly could.
30 was released on Friday, 19 November. The album immediately topped the charts in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other countries. Five days after its release, 30 claimed the biggest opening week of 2021 in the United Kingdom. Weeks later, the album is still topping the charts.
In the album, Adele explores new sonic possibilities. For the first time, she delves into sampling and into contemporary R&B instead of just traditional R&B, or soul. Even when she isn’t employing modern techniques in 30, she doesn’t shy away from employing full, lush orchestras, instead of her usual basic piano arrangements.
Adele insists that the 12 songs in 30 are meant to be heard in order, as the album “tells a story.” She even asked Spotify to remove the shuffle option from the album play button, and Spotify complied.
“Strangers by Nature” is the album's opening. With its swooning orchestra, this song sounds like a Disney fairytale theme mixed with some modern production elements. It’s a perfect opening to the album.
“Easy On Me,” which was released as a single on 15 October, had already established itself as a powerhouse song in Adele’s repertoire a month prior. In “Easy On Me,” Adele sings to her son Angelo, asking him to go easy on her for divorcing his father. This divorce will prove to be the centerpiece of the album. In this song especially, the ease with which Adele hits notes is incredible.
“My Little Love” is a change in style for Adele. A smooth, contemporary R&B percussion beat repeats on a loop in the background, along with humming and a simple violin pattern. While the feel of the music changes, the theme is a continuation of “Easy On Me”: it follows the impact of Adele’s divorce on her son. Scattered throughout the song are recordings of conversations between Adele and Angelo.
“Cry Your Heart Out” immediately defies the expectations set by its title: it’s an upbeat, even danceable, pop track. The song portrays crying as therapeutic. Adele repeats in the chorus, “Cry your heart out, it'll clean your face. When you're in doubt, go at your own pace.”
“Oh My God” begins a series of filler songs in the album, which are uncharacteristic of Adele and a bit lackluster. “Oh My God” is about Adele’s excitement upon discovering that she is single for the first time since becoming a superstar. The lyrics are fairly generic and certain portions of the song feature Adele simply singing, “Mmm, yeah,” as if she was unable to come up with actual lyrics for those sections. Irritating, high-pitched electronic background vocals repeat on a loop in the background.
“Can I Get It” is about Adele’s frustrations upon re-entering the dating pool. This song’s acoustic instrumentation is reminiscent of country pop. Like “Oh My God,” it also has basic lyrics, mostly making use of common expressions rather than creative imagery.
“I Drink Wine” brings the album back up to par. Despite strange background vocals, it mostly delivers. This song, which is about Adele’s post-divorce coping strategies, starts out mundane but grows more powerful as it continues.
“All Night Parking” is Adele’s largest musical shift to date. It is the first Adele song that features another artist. The feature is jazz legend Errol Garner, whose piano playing is sampled and looped in the background while Adele croons about her first love following her divorce.
“Woman Like Me” drips with scorn, which Adele portrays subtly but perfectly through her inflection and lyrics. She sings of her past love, “It is so sad a man likе you could be so lazy; Consistency is the gift to givе for free and it is key; To ever keep a woman like me.”
The last three songs are the longest of the album, each being over six minutes long. They also happen to be the best. Every minute is worth your time.
The song “Hold On” takes the listener to church with its powerful gospel choirs. This joyous song is about the importance of resilience. Adele sings repeatedly “Let time be patient, let pain be gracious.”
“To Be Loved” is a piano ballad that shows Adele at her most vulnerable. She sings of love as a sacrifice: “To be loved and love at the highest count; Means to lose all the things I can't live without.” In typical Adele fashion, she starts out softly and ends the song belting her heart out.
Finally, “Love Is A Game” is a perfect ending to the emotional rollercoaster that is 30. It shows Adele at her best, with a full orchestra (equipped with even jazz flutes) backing up her soaring vocals. When Adele begins touring again, you can possibly expect “Love Is A Game” to close out shows and elicit standing ovations. The song, as you can imagine, is about the pain that comes with romance. Adele repeatedly sings, “Love is a game for fools to play; And I ain't fooling, what a cruel thing; To self-inflict that pain.” Despite this lyrical content, though, the song is musically upbeat and brims with hope. By the outro, Adele sings, “Oh, you know I'd do it all again; I love it now like I loved it then.” This lyric sums up the main theme of 30: love is painful but ultimately worth it.
Adele recently said in an interview with producer Zane Lowe that she doesn’t just want to make music for 14 year olds on TikTok: “If everyone’s making music for the TikTok, who’s making the music for my generation? Who’s making the music for my peers? I’ll do that job gladly.”
Indeed, Adele’s songs cannot be relegated to any particular era. They contain modern elements, but are not run-of-the-mill 2021 radio hits. They are 1970s influenced, but not in an overt (and potentially gimmicky) way like, say, Bruno Mars. As with all legendary songs, they transcend categorization.
Adele’s album 30 is proof that she makes music for everyone—music that is timeless.