"30," Adele (Columbia Records)
Coming out of a divorce, one might expect Adele to write an album of heartbreak ballads. But, to expect anything short of the full spectrum of emotions from "30" would do the Grammy winner a disservice.
As one of the greatest voices of our time, it is no surprise that some of Adele's shining moments on the album are on tracks bare enough that the strength of her vocals stand on their own. What is maybe more surprising is the delightfulness of the songs that are a departure from her normal style.
Adele's opener is unlike any she's written before. "Strangers By Nature" whisks the listener into a black-and-white Audrey Hepburn-era film -- whimsical and at times ominous. The album is given theatrical bookends with closer "Love Is a Game" mimicking some of these dramatic tones. It is a triumphant conclusion with harmonies in the chorus which give a nod to '60s groups like the Supremes.
In between, there are songs about heartbreak and also love songs -- to her son, to new loves (or, at least, those she'd like trying to love) and to herself.
Adele stretches herself on "30," dipping into genres and tones that show her ability to deviate from more somber chart toppers like "Hello" and "Someone Like You." There's the bubble gum pop "Cry Your Heart Out," dance anthem "Oh My God" and the Western-tinged "Can I Get It" -- a song that is so divergent from typical Adele that it calls to mind Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons." In "My Little Love" and "All Night Parking," Adele brings R&B to the record.
While there are jubilant moments on the album, Adele's diary style songwriting ensures that pain is also present on the 12-track "30." "My Little Love" is a movingly personal track which includes voice recordings of Adele comforting her young son and even crying as she describes her loneliness.
The pain is also tangible on "To Be Loved." Its sparse production serves Adele beautifully. There is nothing to smooth out the emotion as her voice teeters on cracking.
The second half of the LP is much quieter than the first, filled with ballads more typical of the British singer. "Woman Like Me" shows her quiet confidence -- she alludes to feelings of guilt and uncertainty in "My Little Love" and "I Drink Wine," but in this song, she reasserts her own self-worth.
"Complacency is the worst trait to have, are you crazy?" she croons, "You ain't ever had, ain't ever had a woman like me."
If "30" is in fact a snapshot of the person Adele is at this moment in time, it is clear that the six years since "25" have led to growth and a more realized version of herself. There are traces of her younger self, but a renewed self-awareness.
"All I do is bleed into someone else," she sings on "To Be Loved."
"I'll be the one to catch myself this time."