By Lauren Richards
Boston University News Service
Adele’s fourth album, “30,” arrived with massive amounts of fanfare and accolades, topping charts across the world and outselling Taylor Swift’s “Red” by hitting 500,000 pure copies in the United States in just three days.
Yet, unlike the thousands of people on the internet sharing memes and excitement, I found myself indifferent. I liked Adele, but I only knew a handful of her songs.
Going into this album, I heard that she made this piece with her son in mind, explaining why she divorced his father. The weight and popularity made this review quite the task and left me feeling this album would either live up to the hype and cover the myriad of emotions that come with its goal, or would flop for me entirely.
Given it was Adele and how personal and raw the matter was, I figured she’d deliver.
She did more than that.
Side note: my roommates blasted her old albums every day during the week leading up to “30’s” release. They approached release day, Friday, Nov. 19, with eager expectation and I simply observed.
When the album did come out, they raved about it. I listened and nodded along to their praises. One even told me that in the past, Adele’s music expressed heartbreak, but this one expressed pain, and deep pain at that.
All the same, I was hooked by the end of the first song and was a fan by the album’s completion.
1.) Strangers by Name
This opening track is a gentle, nostalgic and tragic ode to past love. Overall, it’s a very reflective piece that, in my opinion, has a retro, 1940s feel until it’s stripped down at the end. Rosiness slowly turned into a haunting feel, as the lyrics revealed a grappling to reconcile the past romance and present pain.
2.) Easy On Me
This track, like many to follow, is bare, with only a piano and voice as instruments, yet emotionally packed all the same.
The lyrics are poignant, crafted to seemingly explain why she left her marriage to her 9-year-old son. More than that, they beg for grace, as the title says, to go “easy on” her when reflecting on her actions. At the same time, the lyrics reveal that she’s grappling to accept her choice and asking her son and those close to her to understand why. With the swelling of the piano, she searches for peace as she and those she loves live in her choices’ wake.
3.) My Little Love
While the former song’s subject has some room for interpretation, this track directly addresses her son for the majority of the song. This is one of the most emotionally raw and tender songs on the album, as Adele apparently acknowledges the pain she’s caused her son. It’s another conversation piece, which may very well serve as a time capsule for them both in the future. Despite all that’s going on, with lyrics like “You know, mommy doesn’t like anyone else like I like you, right?” it feels as though the mother wants her son to know he’s loved, and the only one who matters to her.
There’s also a choir in this song, and their role does a solid job of emphasizing the loneliness, while her child’s voice creates a closeness. Perhaps the most emotional part of the song isn’t the melody or lyrics, but rather her speaking with no response. Adele comes off as fragile and broken, but she’s trudging through for him. Her words are tearful and shaky and there’s no response except for the choir gently coaching her on. She admits she’s fearful and small in the mammoth of loneliness she’s experiencing for the first time in this way. This song is heartbreaking and beautifully raw.
4.) Cry Your Heart Out
This song is like the friend who’s there to get you back on your feet after you’ve fallen. It’s the pick yourself up, wipe off the dirt and keep moving kind of song. It’s not a shallow optimism, but rather an encouragement to feel what she feels but to keep going at her pace. The music mirrors the sound of footsteps, emphasizing that enduring theme of moving forward, strong in her choices.
5.) Oh My God
When I first heard this song, I imagined Adele in a room full of mirrors walking around and searching for an escape from herself. The lyrics reveal an internal struggle of whether or not her choices are selfish and whether or not it’s okay to put herself first. Like the song before, the beat mirrors footsteps, but this time they’re not as pronounced or confident. It’s another unfolding of her journey, a part where uncertainty pervades everything.
6.) Can I Get It
A guitar introduces this song and changes up the album’s vibe. While more of a pop song than anything else, this song also has lyrics that hit deeper than most pop songs, revealing a quest for genuine love after hurt.
7.) I Drink Wine
Vulnerability in every sense is once again introduced. The music is stripped down; it’s just Adele, a piano and the choir for the first part. Then, there’s a pivot in the song as she begins to garner confidence in being and accepting herself and more instruments join in as though they were singing in agreement. She’s recognizing that she deserves to be loved just for being herself, no strings attached. There’s an organ, adding a gospel feel to this song which is both emotional and encouraging all at the same time.
8.) All Night Parking
Right away, this song has a whimsical and jazzy feel and invites you to dance with the swirling emotions she introduces. This song reflects on feeling love and its rising and fallings, mirrored by her staccato singing followed by long, smooth notes. It’s like taking a breath again after processing intense emotions.
9.) Woman Like Me
Once again, this song is stripped down. It’s solemn with the three consistent components of this album: her voice, a piano and the choir. This song lets the listener in on her frustrations. She’s angry, furious with her partner for their lack of effort and willingness to grow. She’s confronting their laziness while also acknowledging that she deserves more, that she deserves to be valued. By the end of the song you see her resolve to take her love and find someone else who will appreciate it rather than waste it on someone who’s indifferent to it.
10.) Hold On
Voices echo in the beginning of this gentle song that serves as a reminder to keep holding on. Here she depicts a battle with the self: the frustration of life’s messiness, her flaws, her emotions and feelings that make her feel small. She’s naming this but also coaxing herself to be patient with herself and to keep holding on.
11.) To Be Loved
This mournful melody exposes what happens when left alone; all the tears, heavy emotion, anxieties and insecurities that surface. She also explores elements of love and emphasizes the sacrifices it requires. She’s searching to be understood. I believe this song is especially powerful, not only lyrically but also in delivery. She brings this song to life and shows her expansive range.
12.) Love Is A Game
This is a song that eases the tension from the earlier song but remains emotional. It feels like those moments after a deep cry where you’re left reflecting but also realizing you have to go on. Here, Adele appears to be reconciling with how love is cruel, yet beautiful, painful and needed. She rejects it but ultimately comes back to it, accepting that she might get hurt again.
“30” is beautifully raw, painful, relatable and encouraging, all at the same time.
Each song tells a distinct chapter of the album’s story, which deals with pain, loss, loneliness and love. Adele addresses her ex-husband, her child, her friends and herself.
She shares the highs and lows she experienced on the journey surrounding her divorce, as well as the parts of herself she learned to acknowledge and value. This album is deep and vulnerable and one I will certainly be moved by again and again.