Reviews by mars
Adele's 30 review: the British superstar tackles divorce and self-discovery on her boldest, most emotional album yet (9/10)
There’s no one quite like Adele. Since releasing her debut album in 2008, the British singer-songwriter has cemented herself in music history with her ability to walk the line between timeless and timely. Her blockbuster sophomore release, 21, ushered Adele into the upper echelons of fame. The success of 21 and its singles back in 2011 proved Adele didn’t need any dubstep-infused, electropop mega-hit to become a household name. Instead, she consistently relied on her dreamy vocal performances, honest storytelling, and stripped-down production to showcase her talent.
Four years later, Adele dropped 25, which presented much of what listeners expected from the artist - a mostly safe collection of piano-driven ballads that stuck to the proven Adele formula. In traditional Adele fashion, 25’s release was an earth-stopping event: the album sold over 3.38 million copies in its debut week, the largest single-week sales in Nielsen tracking history. 25 has sold over 22 million copies globally, making it one of the best-selling albums in history. With that said, when something isn’t broken, why try to fix it?
The release of her latest single, “Easy On Me,” sparked wide conversation around Adele’s “new” direction. Would 30 continue polishing Adele’s solidified sound or showcase the singer-songwriter venturing into new territory as she takes on her most personal journey yet?
Adele embraces both sonic and thematic newness on her first release in six years. 30 (released November 19, 2021) is a heart-wrenching depiction of a young woman battling a spectrum of emotions brought on by divorce and personal struggles. Her latest is a collection of songs penned by one of the world’s most emblematic artists, turning her anxieties into art through both familiar and fresh territories.
Throughout the album’s pre-release press cycle, Adele confirmed that the record navigates both her divorce from Simon Konecki and its aftermath: nights spent battling depression, drinking the pain away, and worries of hurting her son in the midst of it all. She hopes that one day when her son is old enough to truly understand love and divorce, he can source the album to dissect his mother’s reasoning for dissolving the family unit he came to know. Across anecdotes of self-doubt, sorrow, and exploration is 30, Adele’s rawest, most vulnerable outing to date.
“My Little Love” is one of her most vulnerable efforts to date as she sings to her son about the guilt she feels for ending the family unit he’s come to know. Included throughout the track are voice memos she recorded at the suggestion of her therapist to better control her anxiety of saying something “wrong” to her son. It’s majestic, yet crushing to hear these luscious strings paired with words filled with such anguish and brutal honesty. “I’m holdin’ on (catch me) / Mama’s got a lot to learn (teach me,” she confesses in the song’s chorus. The track culminates with a voicemail Adele left for a friend. She breaks down in tears while baring her soul, presenting an astonishing level of powerlessness.
Following “My Little Love” comes a 1-2-3 punch of more pop-driven productions. “Cry Your Heart Out” rides along a reggae-infused groove and is a classic entry into the “dance your tears away” pop category. Its upbeat production and stunning harmonies compete with the somber lyrics. “I can’t get no relief, I’m so tired of myself / I swear I’m dead in the eyes,” she reveals. “I have nothin’ to feel no more, I can’t even cry.”
One of the album’s highlights is “Oh My God,” Adele’s sexiest, most pop-driven track yet. She takes on the classic dilemma of pursuing a love interest knowing the dangerous road ahead. She seeks out a new connection while “teetering on the edge of Heaven and Hell” over an infectious, stomp-clap production destined for chart success.
Adele also reunites with producers Max Martin and Shellback on “Can I Get It,” which follows the success of 25’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Now, she’s having more fun than ever before with an early ‘10s whistle hook and all. She craves real love, sharing one of the most romantic things a songwriter can say to someone: “I will be the melody, the rhythm, and your rhyme.”
“I Drink Wine” is one song that Adele fans will declare as a cult favorite for years to come. She continues her self-reflection across an Elton John-inspired production, tackling every chorus with slight newness and consistently building on itself throughout the song's six-minute duration. “I hope in time we will both find peace of mind,” she maturely shares.
Where previous Adele albums tap into a revenge narrative à la “Rolling in the Deep,” 30 is void of these storms. Conversely, it’s her emotional maturity to turn inward that makes the album as introspective and exposed as it is. On “Hold On,” she taps into classic Adeleisms while confessing all. “I swear to God, I am such a mess / The harder that I try, I regress / I’m my own worst enemy,” she painfully admits before breaking into a captivating vocal performance.
The penultimate track, “To Be Loved,” is not only 30’s longest song but also its most minimal. It strips all elements down to simply Adele’s world-stopping tone and gorgeous piano-driven production courtesy of Tobias Jesso Jr, who worked on 25’s “When We Were Young.” She begins with trepidation in sharing the ups and downs of life before culminating in a vocal tour de force. It is “stop you in your tracks” worthy - any tears kept in at this point are reasonably free falling. She releases all that pent-up frustration and hurt in the song’s final breaths, and it’s truly mesmerizing to hear such power exuded so gracefully. It may be one of the best-recorded performances in recent history.
Adele is the rare, cross-generational artist that is able to disappear from the spotlight for years to return with even more power, building on her already-established creative and commercial victories. Her purposeful returns become true cultural moments: many can recollect the first time hearing the opening haunt of “Hello” and the wrath of “Set Fire to the Rain.” On 30, Adele continues advancing her artistry without sacrificing what fans have come to know from her throughout the last decade-plus. It is a stunning accomplishment from one of the world’s brightest stars, revealing every ounce of herself to all while falling in love with life once again.
NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.