After a slow-burning PR campaign, Adele’s first new music in six years has arrived.
Easy On Me, a spare and emotional piano ballad, was released at midnight UK time, offering fans the first glimpse of her “divorce album”, entitled 30.
That will be her follow-up to massively successful albums 19, 21 and 25.
Easy On Me sees Adele explaining her decision to walk away from her marriage in 2019, while asking her son and ex-husband for understanding.
“I changed who I was to put you both first,” she sings, “but now I give up”.
That moment, so naked and unvarnished, sends shivers down your spine.
Adele’s voice is full of regret, but also resolve.
In the accompanying music video, director Xavier Dolan chooses this moment to transition from black and white to full colour – making clear that this is the sound of a woman who has dismantled her entire world, realising that she needn’t feel guilty for putting herself first.
Adele addresses the chorus, “go easy on me”, to herself as much as her family – and she accepts it’s too soon for them to see her point of view.
“I had good intentions / And the highest hopes / But I know, right now / It probably doesn’t even show.”
The song was apparently the first track written for Adele’s forthcoming album, and dates back to the year of her separation. The immediacy of those emotions is apparent in her vocal, simultaneously strong and vulnerable.
But there’s also a generosity to the song. Adele is reaching out to the people she’s hurt, but Easy On Me is also a big woolly blanket wrapped around the loneliness and pain of anyone who’s been through a core-shaking break-up.
It’s already proved to be a hit. Just under 300,000 people tuned in to watch the video premiere on YouTube. Within 12 hours it had been streamed 12 million times.
The single comes just five weeks before her new album – which was first teased in a global marketing campaign that saw the number 30 projected on to buildings and billboards in Brazil, Mexico, Dubai, Italy, Germany, Ireland, the US and the UK.
Fans correctly guessed the release date of 19 November when Taylor Swift moved her forthcoming album forward by a week, apparently to avoid a clash with Adele.
Like her previous three albums the title is a reference to a specific age in Adele’s life.
Thirty is the age at which she married her long-term partner, Simon Konecki, and then left him.
The star has said the album was recorded to help her eight-year-old son understand their divorce the following year.
“I wanted to explain to him through this record, when he’s in his 20s or 30s, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness,” she told Vogue magazine.
“It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal,” she added.
Speaking to BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball, the singer said the album “was bloody hard work to make”.
“I was singing things I didn’t even realise I was feeling or thinking,” she said, adding that it was important for her to share those emotions with the world.
“I feel like I can’t unlock a door for my own mental health and take the key with me. I’ve got to leave it in the door for everyone else – and I’m in a strong place now where I feel like I can put that vulnerability out.
In a separate interview with BBC Radio 1’s Greg James, she admitted that her friends hadn’t been too impressed by Easy On Me when she played them the demo.
“I sent a snippet of it, as I was writing it, to three of my closest friends,” she said.
“One didn’t like it, one was like, ‘keep trying’, and the other was like, ‘I’m busy working’. So that was the perfect response.”
Once it was finished, however, “they loved it”.
“And I don’t do any music in my time off. It’s not a muscle that I exercise – writing or singing,” she added.
“So most of the time, even just for my best friends and my manager, their first reaction, no matter what the song is, is, ‘it’s just nice to hear you sing’.”
While Easy On Me is very much a traditional Adele ballad, there have been hints that the rest of the album will showcase a more experimental side to Adele’s music.
According to Vogue, one track features her vocals “sampled and resampled over a hypnotic beat”, that is reminiscent of electro-pop act Goldfrapp.
She has also worked with London-based producer Inflo – responsible for the retro R&B sounds of Michael Kiwanuka and Little Simz – as well as the Oscar-winning composer of the Black Panther score, Ludwig Göransson.
Radio 2 DJ Jo Whiley, who has been played a handful of the songs, said there are “all kinds” of sounds and genres on the album.
“There’s one that I listened to and it just made me feel incredibly sad,” she added. “She really does pour her heart out and her voice, I think, has never sounded better.
“I was really surprised by the heights that she reaches – and the power and the resonance within her voice is amazing.”
The music world meanwhile has been reacting to Adele’s long-awaited return, with Canadian star Drake alerting his Instagram followers to the fact that “one of my best friends in the world just dropped a single”.
Solo star and former Fifth Harmony member Normani declared: “Adele oh Adele I love uuuuuuuu.”
Elsewhere, Clueless film star Alicia Silverstone posted a humorous video on TikTok of her preparing to drown her sorrows while listening the London singer’s latest heartfelt offering.
However it sounds, 30 is certain to be a shot in the arm for the UK music industry.
Only one British album released since the start of 2020, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, has sold the 300,000 copies required to be awarded a platinum disc.
It took her 10 months to achieve that feat. By contrast, Adele’s last album, 25, went platinum in its first 24 hours.
It went on to become the UK’s 14th best-selling album of all time, with sales in excess of 3.6 million.
Embarrassment of riches
Sony, her new record label, will be hoping to match those sorts of sales heights – although the CD market has declined precipitously since 2015; and Adele’s streaming numbers don’t yet match those of her peers.
She currently has 22 million monthly listeners on Spotify, compared to Ed Sheeran’s 75 million and Taylor Swift’s 46.5 million.
New music will undoubtedly boost those figures, however, even if Adele faces stiff competition from Sheeran, Swift, Abba and Coldplay, who will all release new material in the coming weeks.
Martin Talbot, chief executive of the Official Charts Company, described the pile-up as an “embarrassment of riches” that is almost unprecedented for the music retail sector – but he predicted Adele would emerge on top.
“It would be a brave man who predicted anything other than 30 being the biggest album of this Christmas,” he told the BBC.
“And, with certifications now also reflecting streams, as well as traditional physical and download sales, it is in with a strong chance of going platinum in its first week.”
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