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'30' is peak Adele, mostly for the better

Adele - '30'

Here it is, the Adele breakup album. Few artists have integrated their personal narrative into the arc of their career quite as successfully as Adele Atkins. More than just blasting her songs on your worst days, Adele always seemed like someone with who you wanted to share a couple of drinks and a hearty laugh with. That’s why she was able to host Saturday Night Live and not sing a single note of new music. She’s got personality and relatability, the kind that makes millions of strangers emotionally invested in every little nuance of her lyrics and how they reveal something new about the singer.

For those looking to connect with her, Adele’s new album 30 gives the listener plenty of opportunities to feel those strains. Throughout the new LP, Adele discusses her divorce, the difficulty of raising her child, her sadness, her love of wine, and her desire to stay strong in the face of adversity. Adele knows exactly what people want to hear from her, and she knows exactly what she wants to say, making 30 a home run from the very start. 

What’s all this discourse about 30 being the most experimental album that Adele has ever put out? Why, because ‘My Little Love’ integrates conversations with her son that sound like old school voice messages? Because the jazz influences that were more in the background on past releases are at the forefront of this album’s compositions? That’s all pap, because this is peak Adele, for better or for worse. It’s everything that we all know Adele can and should sound like, amplified to ten, and turned back out to the general public. 

30 more than delivers on what an Adele breakup album should be: it’s forthright, it’s emotional, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a rainy night staying in by yourself with a bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream, and a liberal amount of facial tissues. But it’s not terribly complex. Why should we be surprised that Adele is putting out songs with names like ‘I Drink Wine’, or that she’s more willing than ever to lean into admiration for Amy Winehouse? 

The best parts about 30 are when Adele subverts the Adele that we’ve all come to know well. That’s the easy jazz of ‘Cry Your Eyes Out’, the upbeat R&B of ‘Oh My God’, and the quasi-country stomp of ‘Can I Get It’, which collectively make up the album’s best three-song run. But after ‘Easy On Me’, the album’s best sweeping cry-fest, the ballads start to feel redundant and rote. This has historically been Adele’s goldmine, but when the rest of 30 is fresh and exciting, the gospel-tinged ballads feel like the singer is simply checking the boxes rather than truly challenging herself.

That’s what makes the ending trio of ‘Hold On’, ‘To Be Loved’, and ‘Love Is a Game’ a bit of a slog. If the album just ended on ‘Hold On’, it would be a perfectly balanced 45-minute masterpiece on grief, regret, heartbreak, and moving on. ‘Hold On’ is the self-assured and bombastic finale that we deserve from 30, but for some reason, Adele finds it necessary to drag things out for two more tunes that were already done better on previous songs. ‘To Be Loved’ is a beautifully jazzy piano ballad, but it’s just a slower version of ‘All Night Parking’. ‘Love Is a Game’ gives nods to the orchestra-heavy turns of 19, but it stretches the album to an unnecessary hour-long length.

For the first time around, 30 sounds like the revelatory Adele experience that we’ve all been longing for after years of absence. It delivers, and then some, even if the hooks don’t dig into you the way the non-hits on albums like 21 and 25 did. The personal message gimmick that reappears throughout the album rarely elevates beyond just being a gimmick. But beyond the occasional eye-rolling moments, there’s a lot to enjoy on 30. If all you need in your life is more Adele, and that’s a sizable portion of the population at the moment, then this album will satisfy and then some.