Adele: 30—Album Review
★★★★½ of 5
Today’s Record on the Spotlight: #30, #Adele’s fourth studio album, and her first since 2015’s 25. A record that blends pop, jazz, and blue-eyed soul, 30 sees Adele channeling her inner Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald as she takes the listeners to an almost-cinematic experience.
And truth be told, it’s a feat that only someone like Adele can pull off. Throughout 30’s journey, we hear a record that sounds both entirely new and timeless; messy and fluid; heartbroken and hopeful. And as the final track fades out, one might feel that they just heard one of the best albums of 2021.
I should know—that’s the feeling I just had.
Here are a few talking points.
“Easy on Me” and “Love is a Game”: One is placed near the beginning of the album, the other placed at the end. One features simplistic instrumentation with just a piano and drum machine; the other a full orchestra reminiscent of the big bands during the Golden Age of Jazz. The former struggles during the heyday of heartbreak; the latter projects a borderline-defeatist acquiescence about how love is a gamble.
And yet, both songs, while night and day in difference, end up being the best songs off the album. Obviously, “Easy on Me” will get all the love come awards time; but “Love is a Game” just reminds me of Etta and Ella, and even Aretha.
(I’ll go on a tangent here by saying “Love is a Game” reminds me so much of the late Amy Winehouse, whose vocals suit the song—and who also recorded a song titled “Love is a Losing Game.”)
“Can I Get It”: No, Adele—I can’t. This just doesn’t belong in the album.
The Deepest Cut:
“My Little Love”: Who would’ve thought that one of the most emotional songs in the record is a song Adele wrote for her son? This track features spoken exchanges between mother and son, which include Adele trying to explain her emotional turmoil to her son. The song also features Adele breaking down in tears as she tries to make sense of the heartbreak she’s currently going through.
The singer stated in interviews that the album would be a letter to her son explaining the breakdown of her marriage. For what it’s worth, “My Little Love” would be that centerpiece of that letter.
If I could have a couple of niggles here, it’s that 30 is an album that’s about 10 minutes too long. Of the 12 tracks, almost half of them run for more than six minutes each. Worse, two of those songs (“Hold On” and “To Be Loved”) sound too derivative. Nonetheless, both songs pack powerful punches, which is enough to give Adele a pass.
Finally, the ‘stream of consciousness’ way of songwriting prevalent in the record didn’t stop some songs to resort to safe-territory lyricism. While 30 boasts of a more diversified musicality, it ultimately lacks the overall deep lyricism of what for me remains Adele’s best album, 21.
With those minor quibbles out of the way, here’s what one needs to know about 30: An artist with a reputation for releasing albums few and far between—but turns in a masterpiece each time—would be burdened by the world’s unreasonable expectations to always deliver something that’s way better than everybody else’s best work.
With 30, Adele has done it again. And while it isn’t her best work, it nonetheless manages to place itself at the forefront of the best albums of 2021.
And for good reason—it simply is.