Before Adele’s 30 is released, why not savour the clamour for a moment? It’s hard to recall this level of expectation around any recent album release. A glance at the record-breaking numbers for Easy On Me – now 266 million Spotify streams and 466,880 UK sales in, according to the Official Charts Company – suggests it is a song that people are simply playing over and over again, testing the durability of its epic chorus until the rest of the record arrives. You might even take the view that the whirl of tweets, news stories and gossip that engulfs 30 simply shows the power of pop music. It’s as if the world has an insatiable need for Adele’s new record. Well, now it’s here.
‘I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart,’ sings the 33-year-old over the opening strains of the dreamlike Strangers By Nature, which gets the 12-track record off to a meandering start. Even its very first line is fodder for any listeners playing heartbreak bingo, and as the strings build and Adele’s confessional continues (‘I hope I’ve learned’) the tone is set for 60 tumultuous minutes. Forget an emotional rollercoaster, Adele has built a whole theme park.
‘Right then, I’m ready…’ she says in the gap before the monolithic Easy On Me, the sound of her voice in the studio establishing a sense of intimacy that’s heightened on My Little Love, which is built around voice notes recorded in conversation with her son. ‘Tell me you love me’, she says at one point. ‘I love you a million per cent’, he replies. Later, the singer talks about being confused, anxious, paranoid and stressed, about how a hangover tends to make everything that much worse. It’s a clever device, emphasisng the idea that Adele can feel more like a friend than a generation-defining superstar with nine million-selling singles to her name.
The voice notes also feel unexpected, and that is what comes to define 30. The record transcends the noise around the events that inspired it, this is about Adele's next step as a musician. It is her first album since leaving XL for Columbia, but there’s not a hint of major polish. If anything, 30 seeks to move boundaries for Adele, blurring the lines between mainstream, universal appeal and something altogether stranger.
The vocal hook on Can I Get It – a guitar-driven co-write with Max Martin and Shellback that nods towards George Michael’s Faith – is ginormous, and Cry Your Heart Out and Oh My God, written alongside Greg Kurstin, thwack and thud, resounding like instant classics. But for every moment of pop nirvana, there’s a surprise, a tweak of a chorus here, a sarcastic ‘60s-style backing vocal there.
Five of the 12 songs run over six minutes, and it’s the jazz-infused batch Adele made with Inflo (Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka) that command most attention. Imperfect, wandering and constructed from little more than a simple riff and plenty of smoky atmosphere, Woman Like Me is a seismic moment. ‘I don’t think you quite understand who you have on your hands’, sings Adele, delivering a message not only to the song's errant lover, but to everyone listening. Round and round goes the chorus, and the impact is indelible.
Hold On is similarly dramatic, another emotional torrent (‘Right now, I truly hate being me’) that climaxes in a sequence of extended vocal notes, Adele forcing her voice to pull and bend with her words. But the most riveting vocal comes on To Be Loved. With only a piano played by Toias Jesso Jr (who co-wrote When We Were Young and Lay Me Down on 25) for company, Adele coaxes her voice into unexplored territory. ‘Let it be known that I’ve tried’, she sings repeatedly, now seemingly facing up to love itself. When it's over, after nearly seven minutes, you feel almost winded.
The closing Love Is A Game offers more levity, but as 30 comes to an end, the feeling that this represents Adele’s most impactful collection of songs to date is inescapable. All that remains is to watch it fly.