On the first day of October, the number “30” appeared mysteriously on the side of the Louvre, the Colosseum, and the Empire State Building as if it were a Bat-Signal. It was, in fact, a long-awaited announcement about the return of Adele. That Adele, the smoky-voiced British singer who writes colossal ballads about the long arc of memory, who knows better than everyone else what it’s like to be heartsick and shattered, who croons as if from a completely different dimension. In her world, every event feels like a grand reckoning; there are no lowercase feelings. It has been six years, and in that time Adele has gotten married, and then separated from her husband, with whom she shares a child. 30 is about, in her words, “divorce, babe, divorce,” the ultimate pairing of artist and subject.
Years ago, Adele joked to fans that 30 would be a drum’n’bass record “just to spite you.” Rest assured: No such tricks are played on “Easy on Me,” the album’s lead single. For better or worse, it stays loyal to a classic formula, down to the black-and-white music video directed by the same person behind “Hello.” Even if you’ve never seen an Adele video before, you could probably anticipate its plaintive imagery: Adele in a dilapidated home, pensively looking out the window; Adele driving away in her car, glancing at the rearview mirror; Adele putting on a cassette, letting the stereo crackle. After a first listen, the song already felt familiar—it reminded me of ballads like “One and Only,” from 21 .
“Easy on Me” is tender: Whereas previously Adele urged an ex to grow up—“we both know we ain’t kids no more”—this time she pleads for understanding: “I was still a child.” The stirring ballad relies on little more than piano and that divine voice of hers; she extends the syllables in her words, gliding easily between the notes within them: “Go e-e-e-e-easy on me, baby.” Even if the song isn’t really treading new ground within her own discography, Adele’s powerful delivery feels refreshing at a time when many artists seem to be fond of under-singing; when she charges that “I had good intentions,” soaring forcefully into the line, it sounds like she’s wincing the entire time. There may be new heartbreak to reckon with, but Adele still delivers the same satisfactions.