Adele is one of a very few artists capable of causing a rabid frenzy for scraps at the mere mention of new music incoming. Since the introduction of streams and downloads, long gone are the days when a constant flow of customers stormed record shops on album release day, some even queuing outside, eagerly wanting to get their mitts on the new ‘special stuff’. If Adele had been releasing an album back then, the queue might have stretched to the moon and back, such is her level of fame.
This popularity is key when looking at the impending impact of any new music from the Tottenham singer. Beyond beautiful melodies often set around stunning piano work and sporting almost unbelievably magnificent vocals, her abilities extend in the almost tangible way of how she connects with her audience through lyrics that can define universal experiences. Each of her albums may attempt to take a snapshot of her own life at that given moment, but there are parallels within so many people’s lives that enable this process of connection to be a cinch.
For all that, brilliant lead single Easy On Me was in several ways a misleading indicator. It’s an instant Adele classic, built on the foundations most of her best work shares, being a typically striking piano-accompanied ballad of beauty with a gorgeous key melody in place. And that voice still has the power to turn a spine into a shivery mess. For the most part, the lyrics also relate – until the moment she mentions not only her ex-husband but her child as well. It’s no secret that her divorce was at the heart of this record, and no doubt many similarly placed individuals were eagerly preparing to jump on the back of Adele’s grief once again, the record hopefully going to be so relatable that it could be their record, not Adele’s at all. But then the teeny inclusion of the word “both” during the heartfelt delivery of “I changed who I was to put you both first” skids the needle off this record’s expected train of thought. Just by that one word, Adele made the track tailored to herself.
Also, there are fewer ‘expected’ numbers on 30. Aside from the speech-laden I Drink Wine that does actually offer universal appeal within its lyrics but not a great deal more, there’s only a couple of other similar ‘standard Adele’ cuts here. Whilst this will be welcomed by anyone bemoaning the lack of a new direction or willingness to take risks, the piano ballad of sorrow is only visited for two further tracks: Hold On, that noticeably includes more universally applicable lyrics (“what have I done”; “I don’t wanna leave in chaos”) before a gospel-ish spell is woven, and on the self-pitying onslaught of To Be Loved, where feeling sorry for herself goes into overdrive (“all I do is bleed into someone else”; “let it be known that I tried”). The latter in particular is a recurring theme throughout 30, as if she’s trying to justify actions not only to her ex-husband and child, but to herself with the constantly repetitive nature of the message almost becoming a way of convincing herself that she did all she could to prevent the break-up. Both are amazing songs, but the message gets a little too close to ‘please feel sorry for me’.
The crystal clarity of Adele’s vocals here don’t help. It’s not often these days that you can sit through an entire album and pick out every word at the first attempt, but you could probably accomplish that here, leaving the excitement of deciphering lyrics and messages in song meanings a little redundant. Encroaching into crooner territory is a little unexpected, but she does it on opener Strangers By Nature, and on painfully woeful closer Love Is A Game. Elsewhere, Oh My God bears a resemblance to Aloe Blacc’s I Need A Dollar, but while Blacc’s want was for money, Adele’s want is for fun – not something she has specialised in over recent years, by all accounts.
Acoustic guitar led Cry Your Heart Out offers a detour, venturing into an Amy Winehouse milieu, but pleads those familiar woes again (“I created this storm”). Can I Get It sounds out of place with both its curveball whistling and hope (“your love can set me free”; “I long to live under your spell”). And All Night Parking Interlude (With Erroll Garner) features a sample as the basis of a short piano ditty but is ultimately unmoving. My Little Love, however, is too moving; it’s an interesting inclusion because this is something that should probably have been for no one else’s ears except those of her young child, indeed the snippets of dialogue between both Adele and said child is a little too far down the ‘put everything on the line so everyone can see it all’ route, becoming cringey as a result. It’s almost as if you’re gatecrashing a private conversation, eavesdropping at the door, before sneaking off in an ashamed manner.
Adele has never been one to shy away from revealing her innermost feelings and for that she is dearly loved, and she has already given us so many wonderful moments. Her delivery is unrivalled, leading you into her world of grief almost like a tractor beam sucking you in – there is no escape from it. Despite her albums being snapshots, sometimes a little more diversity in subject matter would be a good thing. Ultimately, while some intriguing risks have been taken, 30 is probably the weakest, as well as conversely the most intimate and in many ways bravest, Adele album to date.