A divorce and a six-year recording hiatus shape a more mature singer – musically and emotionally

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Adele performing at Britain’s Glastonbury Festival in 2016. (Photo by Rex/Shutterstock)
30 by Adele
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(Photo by Theo Wenner / Rolling Stone)


A divorce and a six-year recording hiatus shape a more mature singer – musically and emotionally

Who and what decides fame, obscurity (or something else) in the world of popular music? Talent, luck, the zeitgeist and hype figure into the equation. A huge fan base ranging from tweens to seniors also helps. When you’re Adele – residing in the heady top tier of pop’s mainstream – such a blend can muddy your sense of self as an artist. And, it may elevate your profile for the wrong reasons.

Even before Friday’s release of her long-awaited album, 30, millions of words had been spilled anticipating her first new music since 2015’s 25. Many millions more will discuss the 12-song disc likely to be 2021’s biggest commercial smash.

That kind of attention can throw you off. But from the start of her musical ascent 15 years ago, the 33 year-old singer has eschewed the music industry’s vagaries with one simple attribute – being herself. Raised by a working class, single mom in North London, Adele is hilarious, unscripted and straight up. She’s also apparently not beholden to a typical music career path having reemerged after a 6-year hiatus away from the studio and public eye. And while she may be the queen of abundant woe she wins over listeners by making the sorrow shared and relatable while not taking herself too seriously.

Says Glastonbury Festival’s Emily Eavis, “She can turn an arena into something incredibly intimate and emotional and then have 100,000 people in hysterics. There are very few artists who can do that.”

Adele’s divorce album

30’s lyrical focus is Adele’s 2019 divorce. Unlike her last outing, which had the singer reaching hard for the over-the-top diva bar, this one shows much more vocal nuance and restraint, musical variety and lyrical soul searching. The stylistic options on the collection rival those on her first album, 19. Fifty’s-style string-based compositions, soul-tinged songs, simple voice and piano, touches of hip hop rhythms; some slow, jazzy numbers and more. 30 ventures into some slightly more edgy sounds courtesy of two of the three songs produced by the UK’s Inflo – the force behind lauded mystery band Sault.

An initial listen to the album reveals a maturing artist exploring emotional complexity and pairing it with a broader sonic palette; always with supple voice and superb phrasing. Some songs stand out – the two co-writes with Inflo – Woman Like Me and Hold On for example. At the same time the orchestral pieces are, to my ear, somewhat affected while My Little Love, as heartfelt it may be, shares too much information. However, for now, I’ll file the above under “first impressions”.

It takes time to sink into new work from artists who continue to evolve and hone their craft. And I definitely think I’ll be playing this one for a little while to discover its treasures.

Listen for yourself. You can find the album on the Playlists below along with a few of 30’s early reviews.

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19 November 2021


Aside from a gushing 5 star review from Rolling Stone, the write-ups from The Guardian, NME and Variety are insightful and generally positive noting that Adele has become a bit more musically adventurous while pointing out some shortcomings in the lyrics. If you want to check out more reviews of 30 check out Metacritic.

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30’s album cover (Photo by Simon Emmett/Columbia Records/PA)


The Defining Voice of Heartbreak Returns

While the topic of her divorce is all-consuming, the singer seems to be pushing gently at the boundaries of what people expect of her

by Alexis Petridis / The Guardian / 3/5 stars

There is a sense in which 2021’s biggest single – 84.9m streams in a week on one platform alone; straight to No 1 in 25 countries; a song that received more first-week plays on US radio than any other song ever – wasn’t so much a comeback as an act of global reassurance. The world may recently have lurched from one unimaginable crisis to another, but Adele’s Easy on Me brought with it the message that at least one thing hasn’t changed: Adele Adkins is still heartbroken and belting it out over a gentle piano and tasteful orchestration

Romantic despair became her global brand from the moment she stopped the show at the 2011 Brit awards with her tearful performance of Someone Like You. It catapulted her from the massed ranks of soul-influenced singers filling a gap created by Amy Winehouse’s inability to follow up Back to Black, to mind-boggling levels of success. There’s always the chance that millions of people might flock to an upbeat Adele album that depicts her full of the joys of spring, but clearly she wasn’t taking any chances last time around: for want of new unhappiness, 2015’s 25 returned to the same failed relationships that inspired its record-breaking predecessor 21. No matter – it sold 22m copies.

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’30’ Is the Best Adele Album Yet

She’s never sounded more ferocious than she does on 30—more alive to her own feelings, more virtuosic at shaping them into songs in the key of her own damn life

By Rob Sheffield / Rolling Stone / 5 stars

“Mama’s been having a lot of big feelings recently,” Adele announces early on in 30. Hands up—who’s surprised? This is Adele, after all. She was born with big feelings, and ever since the day she first stepped into a recording studio, she’s been off-the-charts brilliant at sharing them with the world. That’s why total strangers hear ourselves in the swoops and raptures of her voice, even as it gets more flexible, stealthy, dangerous. If you were expecting this woman’s divorce album to be a smooth ride, you’re definitely in the wrong place. 

Adele has never sounded more ferocious than she does on 30—more alive to her own feelings, more virtuosic at shaping them into songs in the key of her own damn life. It’s her toughest, most powerful album yet. “All love is devout,” Adele declares in the magnificent “Cry Your Heart Out,” and she walks it like she talks it. She travels her own Via Dolorosa, walking a treacherous path of heartache, motherhood, boozy despair, and loneliness.

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Dependable pop titan finally mixes things up

Previously accused of playing it safe, Adele enters a new decade by experimenting with bolder sounds. It gives intriguing but mixed results

By El Hunt / NME / 3/5 stars

A mythology surrounds Adele, and trying to quantify the sheer scale of her popularity can make you feel a little dizzy. A year after its release a decade ago, one in six UK households owned a copy of her stratospheric ‘21’ – the record which made her one of the best-selling artists in musical history. At this point, even mind-boggling success feels like a given, and meanwhile, her music can sometimes feel too familiar. When ‘25’ presented a relatively safe selection of cast-iron ballads six years ago, it’s safe to say that nobody was particularly surprised. Last month, the belting break-up song ‘Easy On Me’ felt like more of the same: a hulking great heartbreak ballad backed by pounding piano. “Adele has returned with a reassuring slice of classic Adele balladry,” we wrote at the time.

It turns out that song was a red herring, because if you’re heading into ‘30’ with a clearly-defined sense of what to expect, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Lead single ‘Easy on Me’ along with ‘Hold On’ and ‘To Be Loved’ are really the only tracks here that feel remotely like classic Adele. Though soul, jazz, and blues are hardly new influences for the Tottenham singer, who has built a record-smashing career on retooling retro sounds for contemporary pop, they feel much rawer here, bolstered by show-tuney strings arrangements, gospel, and a sample from the late jazz pianist Erroll Garner on the glimmering ‘All Night Parking’. The helium-charged ‘Oh My God’ and uneasy rolling guitars of ‘Woman Like Me’ both recall the enigmatic UK group SAULT. Perhaps it’s no surprise that their leader, Inflo, produced three of ‘30’s strongest tracks; and as a whole the line-up of collaborators on ‘30’ feels like a departure. As well as more familiar faces like Greg Kurstin and Max Martin, she’s also worked with rock heavyweight Shawn Everett [The War on Drugs, The Killers], and Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson.

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Adele’s ‘30’ Is Her Emotionally Rawest, Riskiest and Best Record

By Chris Willman / Variety

Back in the teletype days, “-30-” was the mark reporters used to denote the end of a story. That Adele has named her fourth album “30” is coincidence, since she draws her LP titles from her age when most of the songs were written. Still, the antiquated coinage is sort of fitting anyway for an album that’s like a long exhalation that’s saying IT … IS … FINISHED, to borrow a favorite phrase of writers, messiahs and divorcees everywhere.

What’s very much done on “30” is Adele’s marriage, as almost anyone sentient knows from the abundance of walk-up media, from twin global Vogue covers to an Oprah sit-down viewed in the U.S this week by nearly 10 million. These appearances all have her bringing up the fact that she instigated the split as casually as if she were discussing giving up aspartame for green tea. Rest assured, though, that there’s nothing casual about the way she treats the dissolution on “30,” an album that meets the breach with enough wrenching, life-and-death drama to leave you completely spent by the time its hour is up, then ready to immediately reinvest. Because, besides being that exhausting, it’s also that good.

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On Spotify


1. Strangers by Nature (Adele Adkins, Ludwig Göransson)

2. Easy on Me (Adkins, Greg Kurstin)

3. My Little Love (Adkins, Kurstin)

4. Cry Your Heart Out (Adkins, Kurstin)

5. Oh My God (Adkins Kurstin)

6. Can I Get It (Adkins, Max Martin, Shellback)

7. I Drink Wine (Adkins, Kurstin)

8. All Night Parking (with Erroll Garner) (Adkins, Erroll Garner)

9. Woman Like Me (Adkins, Inflo)

10. Hold On (Adkins, Inflo)

11. To Be Loved (Adkins, Tobias Jesso Jr.)

12. Love Is a Game (Adkins, Inflo)

13. Easy on Me (with Chris Stapleton) (Adkins, Kurstin)