Saturday, November 20, 2021

Review: 30 • Adele

“Divorce, babe, divorce,” Adele told a fan on an Instagram live stream who asked about the subject matter of her newest studio album, 30. Coming from a woman whose celebrity relied on curating some of her generation’s most devastating heartbreak songs even when she was happily married, the answer – though oddly spirited and conversational – didn’t come as a surprise. No, it had become a universal truth that Adele’s next record had to be a divorce record just minutes after her separation was announced to the public. But then we hear 30, and as it turns out, divorce isn’t the album’s linchpin per se, but rather only its genesis – the starting point for an hour’s worth of music that exercises self-care, self-reflection, and most often, self-indulgence.

30 documents Adele in motion, as she takes a bold step forward in discovering what more an Adele record can offer. And in that regard, she sees some success: “Strangers by Nature” slowly animates the record like a Disney film, while “My Little Love” lingers like a foggy morning, addressing her divorce with her son directly. The first half of the record, where these two tracks reside alongside unmistakable Adele ballad “Easy on Me” and shocking highlight “Oh My God,” undoubtedly offers more interesting extractions of her inspiration than the latter, where the album begins to teeter into more underwhelming, overlong spaces. The last two tracks stretch to almost seven minutes each, and the two before it are five or more minutes – and all of them, including the overdone gospel breakout session “Hold On,” feel as if they’ve said everything they need within the first few minutes. 

In that way, 30 can be a frustrating listen, overwrought and unending in ways that work against its own interest. There’s no denying that Adele cuts right to the quick of her emotions here: No uncertain terms are used to describe how she feels, down to voice memo conversations with her son that narrate pieces of “My Little Love.” The songs are vocally and melodically sound, offering a little something onto which a listener can latch and hum along in the moment. But then many overstay their welcome – most often, when they reside in Adele’s torch song wheelhouse, where she grows comfortable enough to ignore the coda – and dilute any semblance of a true apex. Maybe Adele has made music too far advanced in life experience to resonate with a 25-year-old man. But more likely, Adele made a record that is stretched thin by its own ambition. It’s not a dishonorable effort, but it’s certainly not an instantly memorable one, either.

30 is available now under Columbia Records.

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