Review Summary: Welcome back, Adele; it’s nice to hear your voice again.30
is Adele’s fourth album. Really let that sink in for a second. For an artist who’s sold over 120 million records and become such a household name in popular music, it’s astounding how small her discography actually is. But that just speaks to the significance of an album like 21
, a release that broke countless sales records and even changed the direction of the entire music industry. Personally, I like to see it as the proper conclusion of the album era, as well as one of the last times that an album release was seen as a true “event” a la Avengers: Endgame
. So at this point, Adele really has nothing to prove anymore. Even 25
, which was a vastly inferior followup, was almost equally successful and became her second consecutive diamond-certified record in the states.
And yet, a lot has happened since that album, right? Adele went through another marriage and divorce, became a stay-at-home mother, lost 100 pounds, and was even ordained as a minister to officiate the wedding of one of her close friends. As we’ve observed from past records, her music is nothing if not inspired by her innermost struggles and triumphs; 21
took us through every stage of the breakup she was going through back then, and 25
was largely about motherhood and how the passage of time has changed her. But one thing I’ve always respected about Adele is that she doesn’t release an album until she’s truly ready to do so. We’re not talking about someone like Rihanna, who used to put out a record every year - all of wildly varying degrees of quality. 30
was six years in the making, and - once again - is inspired by everything in her personal life that happened in that timeframe.
However, the way 30
begins is actually somewhat of a departure from previous Adele albums. Instead of the intense anger and scorn that marked “Rolling in the Deep” from 21
or the melodramatic balladry that defined “Hello” from 25
, we start with a lushly orchestrated intro that wastes no time in revealing its hand lyrically to the listener. The first line of “Strangers by Nature” is pretty telling in regards to her divorce: “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart”. This is the first time we’ve had an Adele record with a proper intro track, and the increased jazz influence makes the tune even more enjoyable. In fact, the jazz elements pop back up a lot
on this album! Obviously Adele has used jazz chords a lot in her previous work because of her soul and R&B background, but she explores that facet of her music even more on 30
. “I Drink Wine”, for instance, benefits from the combination of elegant piano work and the sultry light swing of the drums underneath; meanwhile, album highlight “Cry Your Heart Out” uses beautifully rich vocal harmonies that sound as though they came right out of a 50s rhythm and blues record.
What makes 30
so enjoyable, though, is that Adele sounds so much more happy and content this time around. Despite the dark times she went through before its release, she’s never sounded more reassured and confident than she does here. For every low-key ballad, there’s a delightful midtempo or uptempo R&B number to balance it out. Highlights in this category include the aforementioned “Cry Your Heart Out”, the stomping percussion and vocal acrobatics of “Oh My God”, and the intricate string arrangements of midtempo closer “Love is a Game”. Also notable is the fact that Adele’s voice is even better than on previous albums; not only is her belting ability stronger than ever, but she performs much more challenging runs and jazz-tinged harmonies as well. Her work on 30
really helps expand the and flesh out the songwriting of the record; this is particularly true of the longer tracks such as “To Be Loved” and “Love is a Game”, which both benefit from how many vocal techniques she can fit into a single song. The latter is definitely the best example of such, as the entire track is one big symphonically-charged buildup. Once that payoff comes at the end - both instrumentally and vocally - it’s truly wonderful.
If there’s anything that drags 30
down just a bit, it would be the length. The record is significantly longer than any of its predecessors - roughly an hour long - and a few songs could certainly have been shaved off the tracklist to remedy this. “All Night Parking”, for instance, is a pretty bland and forgettable midtempo number that sports an incredibly basic drum beat and directionless songwriting - something that even the presence of legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner can't mask. Still, there aren’t really any outright duds on the album either; some of them simply might have been better off as b-sides instead of album tracks. Regardless, 30
is an excellent return to form after the disappointment of 25
. A lot of the fire and intensity Adele had on 21
is back in full force, but it’s also tempered and measured with a more reflective tone. It’s as if Adele took all the best parts of 25
and combined them with elements of 21
, resulting in a musical highlight reel of sorts. In any case, she should be proud of 30
. It’s a clear sign that she’s back and better than ever, even surpassing much of what she did on 21
. Welcome back, Adele; it’s nice to hear your voice again.