Adele, the British powerhouse of soulful melodies and emotional lyrics, has been on an extraordinary musical journey that mirrors life’s distinct phases. With each album, she has woven her personal experiences into her music. ‘30,’ her latest offering, is no exception, as it candidly explores the pain of letting go.
Adele’s voice is often described as imperfect perfection. Her voice is not a crystal stream. It is a gust of wind that’s picked up some dirt. This imperfection is, in fact, her strength, allowing her to convey raw emotions with unfiltered sincerity.
Adele’s songs are known for their ability to deliver a gut punch of emotion, and ‘30’ is no different. Her music is a masterful blend of soul and blues colours, deeply personal lyrics, and heartfelt vocals, with a strong emphasis on the text, all wrapped in her expressive voice.
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What’s remarkable about Adele’s music is her ability to craft it with relatively simple chordal structures. Her sound carries an element of danger, evident in the muscularity and widening of her chest voice, as well as the audible pop when she transitions between registers of chest and head.
Unlike most pop songs, which are often written in the tenor range, Adele’s songs sit comfortably in a range that suits a wider audience, making it easy for listeners to sing along. While she can push her chest voice up quite high, she doesn’t venture into the extreme ranges of early Mariah or Celine.
The middle of Adele’s voice is where the magic happens, as it exudes soulfulness, richness and power, occasionally carrying an edgy tone. She has the remarkable ability to effortlessly switch between a breathy, fragile head voice and a powerful chest voice. It’s in these high notes that Adele sometimes adopts a ‘vocal fry,’ effectively embodying pain. However, it’s important to note that pushing the chest voice to its limits can be vocally taxing, a fact underscored by the two throat surgeries Adele underwent.
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In ‘30,’ she explores her head voice sound more frequently than in her previous albums, giving her voice a wider palette of colours and potentially safeguarding her vocal health in the future.
This new approach to her voice seems to resonate with the aftermath of a tumultuous period, including the trials of divorce and the relentless pressure she’s faced since she was 18. Adele’s voice has evolved, becoming more vulnerable and authentic, particularly in close-up recordings.
As voices change with time, Adele’s latest iteration seems to sit lower, offering a more grounded yet fragile quality. There are undeniable influences from music legends such as Amy Winehouse, Erroll Garner, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye on this album.
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As she shared with Oprah, Adele emphasised her newfound stability and self-reliance. “I don’t have to expect someone else to give me stability. I can also be stable for myself and be a solid house that doesn’t blow over in a storm.”
Two guitar-based pop songs, ‘Women Like Me’ and ‘Can I Get It,’ show Adele’s vocal versatility. The former is up-tempo and sits comfortably in her lower range, while the latter has a plucked and unplugged feel, with whistling adding a touch of retro charm. ‘Love is a Game’ could easily be the theme for a Bond film, with its strings and expansive colours reminiscent of the 1960s. ‘Strangers by Nature’ could pass as a rediscovered jazz standard, featuring a floated head voice and romantic lyrics.
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One standout track, ‘All Night Parking,’ revolves around a light and floaty sampled jazz piano from Erroll Garner, composer of the 1954 jazz standard ‘Misty.’ Adele’s delicate vocals on the top line, shimmer and flirt, and the programmed percussion is subtle. The vinyl feel, complete with crackling, breathy ambience, is a stylish nod to a bygone era.
Throughout ‘30,’ we not only get a glimpse into Adele’s recent past but also her expansive definition of soul music. The album is an intimate studio journey, tenderly exploring the rites of passage of motherhood, love and loss through her authentic, fragile and powerfully emotive voice.