Madison Yardumian ‘21
On Nov. 19, Adele released her highly-anticipated fourth album 30 to positive reception from fans and critics alike. Positive may be putting it lightly — as of Nov. 21, 30 is 2021’s best-selling album, selling over 500,000 copies in its first three days. This comes as little shock given how excited fans were for a new Adele record: on Oct. 29, three weeks before the album’s release, 30 broke Apple Music’s record for most pre-saves on a given album prior to its release date.
30 presents viewers with a view of heartbreak, divorce, and finding love again that is fragmented in the best way, revealing a complex kaleidoscopic view of emotions, healing and love. For a break-up album, fans will note how chipper some of its songs can be (particularly “Oh My God,” and “Can I Get It?”).
Yet the album still retains strong piano ballads in tracks like “Easy On Me” (you can’t get more quintessentially Adele than in this track) and “To Be Loved.” The singer ditches her piano-driven past in other tracks such as “Strangers By Nature,” showing listeners how her sound has evolved over time.
Something that did strike me upon my first listen to the album was the pop production of the album. It’s not so much that Adele’s music is “more pop” than it used to be. After all, she’s always been a pop singer. It’s that the production on this album feels like a break with her previous work. Much of her old albums are produced with a more natural mix, meaning that the background vocals are at the fore of the song, singing along with the soloist.
This new album has a decisively more pop production style, with the harmonies tucked tightly behind Adele’s lead vocals and more play with vocal editing and less natural sounding instrumental effects. The harmonies also seem to be sung by background singers with much more spread, bright vowels than is typical for Adele. This effect caught me off guard, and curtails some of the fullness the songs could reach (particularly in “I Drink Wine”).
I’m a steadfast Adele fan, so I think part of me is hesitant to see her style change so dramatically. At the same time, there’s plenty of Adele’s standard piano ballads and harmony-packed pieces to be found on 30.
My biggest advice to people hoping to gain the most from their listening of the album would be:
1. Listen to the live version of her songs! The “Adele One Night Only” show is available on CBS. There’s nothing like hearing Adele sing live — there’s something so magical in her voice that just can’t be captured in the stillness of a record. She’s by far one of the best vocalists of our time.
2. The Target version of 30 (available for $10.99 at, no surprise here, Target) has three bonus tracks off the album. I was gifted the Adele CD for 25 and was struck by just how much I adored the bonus tracks — I even thought they were some of the best off the album. The same can be said, in my opinion, of 30. For the full 30 listening experience, I definitely recommend investing in the physical copy of the album.
That being said, here are my top five songs from the star’s fourth studio album:
5. “Oh My God”
I was immediately shocked by the beginning of the song. EDM-esque electronic effects? In an Adele song?? The song is undoubtedly the most current pop-sounding on the album — one could imagine a multitude of current artists singing this song. At the same time, this song retains the powerful harmony-filled final choruses that I’ve come to love most about Adele’s music. The build from the stripped-back beat-driven verses to the beat drop in the chorus is so satisfying. The lyrics are generic, maybe a little cringey, but the song isn’t intended to be one of Adele’s most thought-provoking: “I know that it’s wrong / But I want to have fun” seems to be the attitude this song embodies in its play with beat and electronic effects.
I’m sure this song is going to be as overplayed as “Easy On Me,” but for good reason. It’s so catchy. My girlfriend, who prides themself on not being an Adele fan (can someone please tell them not liking one of the most rightfully popular artists in the world doesn’t make them edgy?), can’t stop from singing along with the chorus. The ending chorus with the harmonies of the bridge and chorus stacked on top of each other feels reminiscent of “Water Under the Bridge” — big Adele choruses filled with harmonies and power.
4. “Strangers by Nature”
An homage to the musicality of Judy Garland and her era, “Strangers by Nature” is harmony and strings-driven with very few lyrics to be spoken of. The song has an enchanting old-time quality to it, culminating in Adele’s aspiration to “nurture what I’ve done.” Swelling with harmonies but never landing in a space of resolution, the song is contemplative and thoughtful, new love meets old love. As the first track on the album, and a song unlike anything she has released before, the track immediately signals to listeners that this album will require them to embrace a new Adele, one they don’t yet know.
3. “Easy On Me”
I know, I know, this song has already been overplayed. But there’s a reason for it! The glossy but mournful song gives us Adele at her very best: her voice soars over a simple but powerful piano backing, and the lyrics are both poignant and specific but generalizable enough that millions will no doubt find themselves singing along. The song showcases both Adele’s incredible belt, rich low notes, and characteristic mix between her head and chest voice. The musicality of the song is effortless. It seems to be a nod back to the music of 21, allowing Adele’s voice to take center stage and speak for itself.
2. “To Be Loved”
Named the number one song off the album by Billboard, this song is a classic Adele piano ballad. But rather than singing about heartbreak, in “To Be Loved,” Adele sings about learning to be vulnerable enough to accept love and the potential heartbreak that might come with it. The song’s piano backing is simple, with gentle chords backing the singer’s heartfelt message. Adele’s voice is at its most show-stopping when supported by simple accompaniment. When Adele comes in for the bridge, her voice soars above the track, her voice almost seeming to break through your phone in a moment of beautiful emotion. This track also manages the difficult feat of being a ballad with undeniable catchiness (I often find myself singing it under my breath). All in all, this track is a fan and critical favorite for good reason: it showcases Adele at her very best.
1. “Can’t Be Together (Bonus Track)”
My number one pick is a track that can only be found on the Target CD version of the album. This song is well worth the somewhat useless purchase of a CD in the digital age. It details the complicated feeling of loving someone you know you can’t be with anymore. Once again, simple piano does wonders for highlighting Adele’s striking voice. The beautiful piano track has a wonderful flow, feeling like the current of a river in the song’s chorus, pulling listeners along with its lesson about letting go of what can’t be. In its willingness to take on complex feelings whilst refusing to simplify them, “Can’t Be Together” encapsulates the best of what 30 has to offer.
All in all, while I don’t think 30 compares to 25 in terms of its sheer power and plethora of hit tracks, it’s still an excellent album.
Image Source: 30 Radio