Adele’s ‘30’ is heartbreaking masterpiece of love, healing

photo of Adele album cover
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Adele’s music has always been a diary of her life. In 2018, she became a single mother for her only son Angelo after divorcing her husband, Simon Konecki. Her latest album thus faithfully chronicles the emotional breakdown experienced during this especially tumultuous stage of her life, which nevertheless has resulted in the artist’s newfound maturity and the courage to move on. Furnished with some of her most beautiful, affecting vocals and unparalleled emotional honesty, 30 is Adele’s undeniable masterpiece and best work to date.

Nobody handles a simple piano ballad so skillfully and beautifully as Adele does. And there is no secret to how she does it — it’s clearly her beautiful, heartrending vocals. On the lead single “Easy on Me,” for example, Adele moves audiences to tears with her sincere, profoundly emotional voice, without any instrumental accompaniment save for a piano. Although Adele’s catalog has no shortage of ballads (most will easily recall the universally popular “Someone Like You” or “All I Ask”), her vocal performances have never so effortlessly and masterfully harmonized with the stripped-down piano. 

The Tobias Jessor Jr. co-written “To Be Loved” is another unmissable piano ballad on this record. In a bursting voice, Adele belts to the heavens, “let it be known that I’ve tried.” In escalating high notes, she fully conveys her vulnerable and powerless feeling when she gives up her attempt to salvage a tragic relationship, one which inevitably sank like a shipwreck to its hopeless sea bottom. The harmony between her voice and the piano is so perfectly natural and coherent that the track sounds less like a studio recording than a live performance, adding more authenticity and rendering her music more touching than ever before.

While 30 is full of piano ballads that speak to the stinging pains of love, it also offers more pop-inspired dance tracks about love’s comforts and thrills. “Can I Get It” features a greater diversity of instruments, including guitars and driving percussion. The playful use of whistles is also unprecedented, providing fun and entertainment to this otherwise somber album. Late great American jazz pianist Erroll Garner also appears as the first guest artist on an album by Adele by way of sampling, contributing to the delightful, soothing interlude, “All Night Parking.”

30 is a map that minutely illustrates Adele’s transition from her marriage with her ex-husband Simon Konecki to a new life as a single mother. It starts with hesitance: In the opening track “Strangers by Nature,” she murmurs, “I hope that someday I’ll learn.” However, that ‘someday’ remains an obscure date — a self-fulfilling wish at best. In “Easy On Me,” she further reflects on how she is “just a child.” She does not have the emotional strength yet to cope with the aftermath of her divorce.

The album’s most harrowing and vulnerable moment comes at “My Little Love” where voice memos of Adele talking with her child alternate between a monologue about an emotional breakdown and her heart-wrenching singing, illustrating the sense of chaos and distress that her divorce has inflicted upon her. 

Although Adele descends into the devastation of her divorce in the first three tracks of 30, the rest of the record offers a gradual yet effectively healing ascent. “Cry Your Heart Out” urges Adele to wash away her pain with tears — a simple yet effective method to raise her spirits. She also realizes that she can open herself tentatively to new romances since she is single now. And in the end, she does manage to learn and move on: On the ending track “Love Is a Game,” she makes that ‘someday’ the present. Wittily and somewhat self-mockingly, she reflects how “love is a game for fools to play,” but that she is ready to “love again.”

30 marks another monumental step in Adele’s personal life and musical career. With heart-grasping musical production and emotional authenticity, she makes a successful comeback to the music industry. In a year of particularly heightened emotional vulnerability, it’s absolutely unmissable.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].