Adele Pushes Her Songcraft to Even Grander Heights on '30'

BY Kyle MullinPublished Nov 22, 2021

Six years after the release of her record-breaking success 25, British pop chart-topper Adele has returned with 30, taking bigger risks and revealing enough hard truths to make this her most powerful album yet.

After filing for divorce in 2019, nurturing her now-nine-year-old son all the while, Adele has had no shortage of material to mine for 30. But background context and lyrical catharsis aside, 30 is essential listening on a sonic level alone. Adele assuredly pushes her sound forward with a number of powerhouse producers, nimbly keeping pace with the skipping jazzy instrumental and lofty background vocals of "Cry Your Heart Out," all of which are more reminiscent of an Erykah Badu or Janelle Monáe deep cut than anything from Adele's back catalogue (though the lyrics about wiping away tears are in-keeping with her material from 21 and 25). "Oh My God," meanwhile, boasts understated stomping percussion for which Adele adopts a spellbinding staccato cadence. And the kitchen-sink production of "Can I Get It" features acoustic guitar breakdowns, slickly produced drum loops, blaring whistles and horns, and more, all of which Adele anchors with swaggering singing.

Adele's vocal prowess is matched by her ear for on-point production throughout 30. Those collaborators include 25 alumni like Greg Kurstin (who co-wrote that album's chart-topper "Hello"), Tobias Jesso Jr. (the British Columbia-born songwriter who co-wrote "When We Were Young"), Max Martin (the ace behind some of Britney Spears' and the Backstreet Boys' biggest hits) and Shellback (who worked with Martin on hits by Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande). She has also recruited new collaborators like Swedish producer and composer Ludwig Göransson and, more interesting still, Inflo of the mysterious and critically acclaimed English band SAULT. Martin and Shellback certainly throw every sonic trick in the book at "Can I Get It," and Adele gamely rises to the occasion. No one would blame Kurstin, meanwhile, for resting on the laurels of the ubiquitous "Hello," but he instead stays laudably hungry with eclectic production on "Oh My God" and "Cry Your Heart Out." 

Yes, Adele and company have certainly made musical strides on 30. But the singer's thematic growth is equally thrilling. Prime examples: "Woman Like Me," a kiss-off for the ages to a lazy deadbeat, and the tender ode to motherhood "My Little Love." The lyrics of both those richly mature tracks would have shocked the lovesick Adele of the smash hit "Someone Like You" a decade ago, also heartening her because of just how far she's come along. It all comes together on standout "I Drink Wine," where Adele captivatingly escalates her voice on the chorus, while lyrics like "everybody wants somethin', you just want me" succinctly convey the isolation of her singular success. 

And yet, fans of Adele's back catalogue (who, of course, amount to many millions) will relish the acoustic guitar and gentle percussion of "Woman Like Me," which echoes the spareness of "Best for Last" from her 2008 debut 19. Meanwhile, the pained piano and high-note singing on both "Hold On" and "To Be Loved" will give listeners chills à la "Someone Like You." Indeed, Adele has deepened the niches that made her preceding songs so powerful. But instead of playing it safe with only those established tricks, her bold exploration of new terrain on "Cry Your Heart Out" and "Oh My God" help Adele become not only the world's top hitmaker but also a pop music visionary.

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