• Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Five things we learned from a preview listen of Adele’s 30

Nov 18, 2021

Is 30 Adele’s best album yet? I’ve listened to it just once, largely while chomping through a couple of breakfast pastries, but I’m already convinced. It’s definitely her most enjoyable.

Earlier this week at Sony Music’s Sydney headquarters, in a large room adorned with white cushions and white flowers, dimmed with blue mood lighting and candles – the kind of room you might expect Diane Keaton to enter dressed in a white pantsuit to dramatically pour herself a glass of verdelho – the record label ran a single play-through of the album for gathered media ahead of its Friday release.

Adele’s anticipated new album 30 is her most diverse yet.Credit:Simon Emmett

Considering the anticipation around the release – a long six years after the Grammy-sweeping, chart-destroying phenomenon that was 25 – all phones, Apple watches and similar devices were locked up at the door; even lyric sheets had to be returned to label reps on our way out.

And yet, I left with learnings, scribbled into a notebook with a pencil like some geriatric millennial.

1: Easy On Me is a trick, don’t be fooled
Welcome news for those of us who despise piano ballads: the rest of 30 doesn’t at all sound like its tedious lead single! 30 is easily Adele’s most diverse album, filled with dense Wall of Sound production (largely from longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin) that adds new textures behind her signature raw vocals.

Highlights such as Cry Your Heart Out with its rocksteady groove and skittering bongos (!) had toes tapping around the room, and All Night Parking, with its smoky, Billie Holiday-esque ambience and a crackly interlude from long-dead jazz pianist Erroll Garner, might help you imagine what might’ve been if Amy Winehouse had lasted into the trap era. Oh My God even adds a pounding dancehall rhythm to its sex-positive tenor (your Adele-loving grandma might be shocked).

2: Speaking of Amy Winehouse…
Her influence is everywhere on the album, from Cry Your Heart Out’s doowop-y soul vibes to the girl group, call-and-response chants of closer Love Is a Game, to the, well, lyrical emphasis on boozing as a post-divorce coping mechanism (“When I was a child every single thing could blow my mind, soaking it all up for fun but now I only soak up wine,” Adele sings on the gospel-tinged I Drink Wine – which is, alas, not the Three 6 Mafia-esque club banger the internet hoped for).

Adele has long voiced her admiration for fellow North London native Winehouse, and as recently as last month’s Vogue cover story said the late singer “means the most to me out of all artists”. As far as breakup albums go, Back to Black is a solid template to latch on to.

3: The most direct comment on her divorce is a song about parental guilt
Much has been made of 30 as Adele’s “divorce album” (largely by Oprah), but the most explicit comment on the album about her 2019 split from her former husband of two years, charity executive Simon Konecki, is the emotional track My Little Love, a song aimed at the pair’s nine-year-old son Angelo.

For an artist who’s been nothing but brutally revealing in her music, My Little Love hits another level. Over a slinky, Sade-esque groove, Adele sings, “I know you feel lost, it’s my fault completely”, before voice memos of a therapy session with Angelo enter the mix and she reveals the strain that motherly guilt over the divorce caused. “I feel very paranoid, I feel very stressed, I have a hangover… I just wanna watch TV, be in me sweats,” she cries into her voice diary, which seems a very Adele thing to say.

4: There’s one brutal Rolling in the Deep-style kiss-off on the album, but it’s not about her ex-husband
It’s called Woman Like Me and, amazingly, I think it’s about UK grime rapper Skepta. Hear me out.

Although neither ever confirmed it, tabloids reported Adele and Skepta began dating in October 2019, months after her split from Konecki (and before she hooked up with current boyfriend, basketball agent Rich Paul, in early 2021). Woman Like Me finds Adele singing of a transitional romance, a fling that didn’t catch but helped her work through her divorce.

Over a sparse acoustic guitar flutter from producer Inflo, she sings, “We come from the same place but you’ll never give it up,” a possible reference to the pair’s shared Tottenham roots. Lest you think she looks back fondly on the relationship, she bitterly adds: “Complacency is the worst trait to have, are you crazy? It’s so sad a man like you could be so lazy,” and “Loving you was a breakthrough, now some other man will get the love I have for you.”

Starting a diss battle with the UK’s top grime emcee? It makes Taylor Swift’s whole thing about Jake Gyllenhaal stealing her scarf look like kids’ play.

5: There’s still a blustery torch ballad for the Adele obsessives of yore
For those who fear 33-year-old Adele may have strayed too far from the sound that made her a global sensation, fear not: torch ballad To Be Loved can be your anchor.

A sparse piano number produced by regular collaborator Tobias Jesso Jr, the track is pure Adele vocal power – the kind of song that’ll have you thinking of Whitney Houston sitting on a stool in front of a projection of scenes from The Bodyguard. “I’ll never learn if I never leap, I’ll always yearn if I never speak,” Adele sings, her voice cracking in the final verse. “I can’t live a lie, let it be known that I tried-ied-ied-ied-ied!”

In her Vogue interview, she described it as her “Edith Piaf-y moment”. In the listening session, it sparked whooping and exasperated gasps in the room when it ended. If that’s not the sound of another 20-odd million album sales worldwide, I don’t know what is.

Adele’s 30 is out on Friday via Columbia/Sony Music.

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