When Adele sings, the world listens. This much has always been true. A voice as commanding as hers prevents anyone from looking away for too long. So, once her almost six years of silence came to an end with ‘Easy On Me’ last month, the world sat down, inhaled before tuning in once again. Adele mania swept through us all, counting down the days to her ‘not-divorce’ album, 30.
But, for an album anchored in separation, it’s honesty nothing if not unifying.
Adele said that working on 30 saw her reduce the size of her recording team, and not having so many cooks in the kitchen allowed for intimacy and honesty that was previously untouched – even for her. There’s the incredibly delicate ‘My Little Love’, backed by silky vocalisations and not much else, where Adele sings about her divorce’s impact on her son, Angelo. Interspersed with conversations between her and Angelo, as well as a tear-filled monologue about her loneliness, ‘My Little Love’ is a tonal benchmark for the entire record: gorgeous and transparent.
But, in Adele’s case, transparency is exactly what fans want from her. Her candid nature permeates her entire media presence as she feels unperturbed by the way the culture moves. She doesn’t feel press-trained, she’s avidly against joining TikTok, and she has famously fought against streaming services practices for years. But that candidness drives her songs, as well. She’s angry and scorned on the brooding ‘Woman Like Me’, curious and playful on the rambunctious ‘Oh My God’ and she’s wallowing in self-defeat on the devastating ‘Hold On’, where she sings one of the album’s more poignant lines: “Sometimes loneliness is the only rest we get” and “Sometimes loneliness is easiest in secret.”
However, despite Adele’s inevitable predictability, 30 changes things up more than any of its predecessors. It isn’t as packed with radio-friendly soarers like 21 was – though her first-ever ode to a booty-call, the stomping ‘Can I Get It’, certainly makes up for the lack of quantity. In any case, ‘Easy On Me’ helps fill that void, bridging the Adele that gave us 25 to the Adele we have now, six years later. With an inimitable hook and lush keys, Adele begs for sympathy while offering quintessentially strong vocals. There’s elements of musical theatre present on 30 too, with opener ‘Strangers By Nature’ sound like the muted parting of the curtains as we all peer into her life. The finale, ‘Love Is A Game’, is as grand as any encore, delivering complex and layered orchestration that, if nothing else, feels like Adele will find hope and love again.
But, none of those songs nor any other on 30 come close to what is surely Adele’s magnum opus – ‘To Be Loved’. Opening with cascading keys, Adele tears her heart open and bleeds out in front of us, over Tobias Jesso, Jr.’s immaculate pianism. She’s already said she won’t perform the song live, and it’s understandable – it’s as raw as it is dramatic, and you’ll be picking yourself up off the floor upon first listen. There are levels of vulnerability and self-awareness here that Adele has never reached before, with her belting on the chorus: “Let it be known that I will choose to lose / It’s a sacrifice, but I can’t live a lie / Let it be known, let it be known that I tried.”
This is a woman who has remained very upfront about the circumstances of her divorce and the almost inexplicable nature of her falling out of love. All throughout 30, she pours her heart out – she can’t not – but ‘To Be Loved’ is different. Her voice reaches heights and power that it never has before, and might not again, and she does it without missing a single note. Consider that the song was put on the record after just a few takes, and ‘To Be Loved’ feels to be the most accurate snapshot of what someone as famous as Adele is like when they feel everything, all at once.
The past few years, we’ve all been confronted by our feelings, forced to visit memories and emotions, a busy life kept at bay. But, as Adele sings, “I’ll never learn if I never leap”. There’s power in pushing through. Adele isn’t exactly ending the album on an undeniable high, but she’s proud of herself for conquering the bleakest lows – so we can be proud of ourselves for doing the very same.