Oh boy. I expected this album coming but even still I feel out of my depth to write about a powerhouse like Adele. Alright, biggest album of the year. Here goes nothing, I guess.
In 2011, mainstream pop music was mostly filled by club music with artists like Pitbull, LMFAO, and Black Eyed Peas ruling the charts. Regardless of how you feel about that era of music, it was undeniable that the music was mostly fixated on how it would sound on the dance floor with emotion not playing too much of a heavy hand and focusing mainly on escapism. So it felt like a cannon when, out of nowhere, a young Adele smashed onto the scene with music that blended adult contemporary and soul - not fitting for the dance floor at all - and filled with very complex and nuanced emotions about heartbreak. Deceivingly simple on the surface, “21” was an album filled with pain that came out in many ways and layers with tracks like “Rolling In The Deep” being an angry release and “Someone Like You” being the pained acceptance of realizing you need to move on. Considering the current scene, it’s surprising that it blew up the way it did, but something about Adele’s very relatable writing, her old soul spirit, and her incredible voice really connected with people. This would continue on her followup album “25”, a project about healing, moving forward, finding new love, and the birth of her child.
Continuing the theme of releasing a new album with every further chapter of her life, Adele has finally returned six years later with the delayed release of “30”. Originally meant to be released last year, Adele has come into this album to reflect on her life as a mother, her experience with fame, and, most notably, her separation from her husband. In a lot of ways, it’s almost like we are revisiting the emotions experienced on “21”, with some obvious differences. Obviously, how Adele processes the ending of a relationship is much different when she is a) a decade older, b) dealing with the added weight of fame, c) actually married to this person, and d) has a child with him. With “21”, it at times felt like she was destroying everything in her man’s house out of anger and pain. There is still anger and pain on “30”, but it more often leads to cold resentment and pleading to repair the home they’ve built together. It also seems like there are more tracks here where she reflect on her role in what has happened whereas on “21” it’s mostly saved for that incredible closer. Not only are the complex emotions of a breakup felt on this record, you also feels the complexity of your relationship dissolving when you’ve dedicated a substantial part of your life to them. What I’m trying to say is that while “30” might not be as instantly gratifying and tear inducing as “21”, for those who have been in a breakup or ran close to one with someone who you’ve spent a significant time of your life with, it’s going to hit you hard in the feels.
Held together by Adele’s technically proficient and emotionally evocative voice, the production on this record comes from returning figures Greg Kurstin, Tobias Jesso Jr., Shellback, and veteran mega producer Max Martin, with Ludwig Göransson and Inflo (two of my favorite producers right now) joining the team as well. The sound of “30” continues to fit into Adele’s sound of pop, soul, and adult contemporary, with some notable expansions into different territories as well. There’s a good bit of jazz infusion, there’s some more radio ready pop tracks, incorporations of modern electronic production, chopped soul sampling, flamenco styling, even the strings sound more cinematic in nature. My real big complaint with “30”, however, is the pacing. Now I know this is Adele we’re talking about, she’s not going to put out any dance pop bangers, but I really think the slower and more intimate nature of her songs is not helped at all with an hour long runtime. But what really hurts it is the substantial amount of 5-7 minute long slowburn tracks on the second half. That’s not to say the second half is bad, I actually think some of the best tracks are in the album’s second half, but considering that the first half wasn’t exactly bursting with energy (despite having more variance in the album’s vibe), it really gets exhausting when you have a bunch of longer and slower songs back to back in the end.
Still, I think this is another great addition to Adele’s discography and shows why the rarely seen singer songwriter holds such a dominance over the world of music. While I certainly don’t want her to experience heartbreak over and over again, her dealing with the complex emotions and nuances that comes with it while still managing to pop out well crafted songwriting reminds me of what people loved so much about “21”, and in certain cases it hits even harder. It’s certainly not as immediate and universal as that project, but I think it’s going to resonate with people who have been in longer relationships and know what it’s like to try to desperately hold onto something that you know is coming to an unfortunate end. Especially considering how rarely we hear new music from her and that a good bunch of my high school faves really dropped the ball this year, it’s nice to hear Adele continue to be the best version of herself on “30”.