Oh, Adele — you had me at hello. That’s how you’ll feel 20 seconds into “30,” after the pop superstar begins with a bit of Morrissey-esque macabre: “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart/For all of my lovers in the present and the dark,” she sings on “Strangers by Nature,” an orchestral-pop oddity that catches you off guard.
You quickly realize that “30” — her fourth album, which was finally released on Friday morning after much anticipation isn’t the same Adele from 2015’s Grammy-winning smash “25.” She’s been through it, owing to her divorce from Simon Konecki, the father of her 9-year-old son, Angelo, and it changes a diva.
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And Adele’s clearly wrestling with her feelings about breaking up their family on “30”: “Oh, I hope that someday I’ll learn /To nurture what I’ve done,” she confesses at the end of “Strangers by Nature.”
But it’s on the haunting “My Little Love” that Adele really has a heart-to-heart with Angelo about the changes that she put him through.
“I know you feel lost, it’s my fault completely,” she admits over six-plus minutes of hushed, unhurried conversation that actually includes snippets of a private exchange between mother and son: “Mommy’s been having a lot of big feelings recently,” she says.
Big feelings, indeed: she even breaks down and tears up halfway through. It’s an unusually private moment for such a notoriously private celebrity.
Then on “Cry Your Heart Out” — a finger-popping bop that, like other tracks on “30,” recalls the jazzy vibe of Adele’s 2008 debut “19”, she lets you feel more of her pain: “I created this storm/It’s only fair I have to sit in its rain,” she sings over a retro-soul groove that conjures up Amy Winehouse, the late British artist whom Adele has credited for paving the way for her own success. Indeed, this feels like the perfect companion to Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.”
Other tracks include the bluesy “Oh My God,” which harkens back to the spooky-cool soul of “Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumour Has It” from 2011’s “21.” But Adele, who appears to be speaking directly to Angelo, is unapologetic: “I am a grown woman, and I do what I want.”
But the Chardonnay-soaked contemplation of “I Drink Wine”, an Elton-esque piano ballad that the singer debuted on her “Adele One Night Only” TV special last Sunday”, hints that she still has some mom guilt about the divorce fallout on Angelo: “How can one become so bounded by choices that somebody else makes?”
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Surprisingly, “30” is not the big pop album that you might expect from the biggest pop star on the planet. There aren’t a lot of obvious singles aside from current No. 1 hit “Easy on Me” and the Max Martin-produced “Can I Get It,” with its strummy guitar and whimsical whistling yet there are unanticipated quirky details.
But that won’t stop it from becoming a box office smash. And her voice sounds richer and rawer than ever as if that were even possible with her beastiest vocal coming on the gospel-infused “To Be Loved,” a tour de divorce on which she sings, “I built a house for love to grow/I was so young that it was hard to know… It’s past time for me to confront myself/All I do is bleed into someone else.”