“Right then, I’m ready,” Adele says quietly at the close of 30’s opening track, “Strangers By Nature.” It feels like a moment of gentle—but firm—self-encouragement. This album is something that clearly required a few deep breaths for Tottenham’s most celebrated export. “There were moments when I was writing these songs, and even when I was mixing them and stuff like that, where I was like, ‘Maybe I don't need to put this album out,’” she tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “Like, ‘Maybe I should write another.’ Just because music is my therapy. I'm never going into the studio to be like, ‘Right, I need another hit.’ It's not like that for me. When something is more powerful and overwhelming [to] me, I like to go to a studio, because it's normally a basement and there's no fucking windows and no reception, so no one can get ahold of me. So I'm basically running away. And no one would've known I'd written that record. Maybe I just had to get it out of my system.” But, almost two years after much of it was completed, Adele did release 30. And remarkably, considering the world has been using her back catalog to channel its rawest emotions since 2008, this is easily Adele’s most vulnerable record. It concerns itself with Big Things Only—crippling guilt over her 2019 divorce, motherhood, daring to date as one of the world’s most famous people, falling in love—capturing perfectly the wobbly resolve of a broken heart in repair. Its songs often feel sentimental in a way that’s unusually warm and inviting, very California, and crucially: earned. “The album is for my son, for Angelo,” she says. “I knew I had to tell his story in a song because it was very clear he was feeling it, even though I thought I was doing a very good job of being like, ‘Everything’s fine.’ But I also knew I wasn’t being as present. I was just so consumed by so many different feelings. And he plucked up the courage to very articulately say to me, ‘You’re basically a ghost. You might as well not be here.’ What kind of poet is that? For him to be little and say ‘I can’t see you’ to my face broke my heart.” This is also Adele’s most confident album sonically. She fancied paying tribute to Judy Garland with Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson (“Strangers By Nature”), so she did. “I’d watched the Judy Garland biopic,” she says. “And I remember thinking, ‘Why did everyone stop writing such incredible melodies and cadences and harmonies?’” She felt comfortable working heartbreaking bedside chats with her young son and a voice memo documenting her own fragile mental state into her music on “My Little Love.” “While I was writing it, I just remember thinking of any child that’s been through divorce or any person that has been though a divorce themselves, or anyone that wants to leave a relationship and never will,” she says. “I thought about all of them, because my divorce really humanized my parents for me.” The album does not steep in sorrow and regret, however: There’s a Max Martin blockbuster with a whistled chorus (“Can I Get It”), a twinkling interlude sampling iconic jazz pianist Erroll Garner (“All Night Parking”), and the fruits of a new creative partnership with Dean Josiah Cover—aka Michael Kiwanuka, Sault, and Little Simz producer Inflo. “The minute I realized he [Inflo] was from North London, I wouldn’t stop talking to him,” she says. “We got no work done. It was only a couple of months after I’d left my marriage, and we got on so well, but he could feel that something was wrong. He knew that something dark was happening in me. I just opened up. I was dying for someone to ask me how I was.” One of the Inflo tracks, “Hold On,” is the album’s centerpiece. Rolling through self-loathing (“I swear to god, I am such a mess/The harder that I try, I regress”) into instantly quotable revelations (“Sometimes loneliness is the only rest we get”) before reaching show-stopping defiance (“Let time be patient, let pain be gracious/Love will soon come, if you just hold on”), the song accesses something like final-form Adele. It’s a rainbow of emotions, it’s got a choir (“I got my friends to come and sing,” she tells Apple Music), and she hits notes we’ll all only dare tackle in cars, solo. “I definitely lost hope a number of times that I’d ever find my joy again,” she says. “I remember I didn’t barely laugh for about a year. But I didn’t realize I was making progress until I wrote ‘Hold On’ and listened to it back. Later, I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve really come a long way.’” So, after all this, is Adele happy that 30 found its way to the world? “It really helped me, this album,” she says. “I really think that some of the songs on this album could really help people, really change people’s lives. A song like ‘Hold On’ could actually save a few lives.” It’s also an album she feels could support fellow artists. “I think it’s an important record for them to hear,” she says. “The ones that I feel are being encouraged not to value their own art, and that everything should be massive and everything should be ‘get it while you can’… I just wanted to remind them that you don’t need to be in everyone’s faces all the time. And also, you can really write from your stomach, if you want.”

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