It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the best song on Adele’s fourth album, :30,” is by Swedish songmaster Max Martin and producers Shellback. It’s the only track that seems like it was made for a professional pop album by a mature singer. “Can I Get It” is the one time on “30” where you feel like Adele might be on the right track.
Martin didn’t drink the Kool Aid. Everyone else did. Reviewers won’t admit it, and fans won’t for the time being. But “30” is a perplexing strike out where a home run was necessary after six years.’
There are strange lyrics on this album, odd production choices, and a severe lack of songwriting. The worst number comes on the third track, generally the place for a big radio single. But on the truly atrocious “My Little Love,” Adele engages in a conversation with her toddler son, Angelo. I really thought my music player was picking up a voice message bleeding through the album. And this soap opera clocks in at six and a half minutes.
Another pair of Greg Kurstin songs follow, “Cry Your Heart Out,” and “Oh My God.” Where Kurstin went awry on “My Little Love,” he’s got one winners herewith Oh My God,” that at least feels original. “Cry My Heart Out” really sounds like Ed Townsend’s mid 70s R&B hit, “Smoke from a Distant Fire.”
That’s not a bad thing except Adele would have been better off just covering that classic. These two lead into “Can I Get It,” an uptempo number reminiscent of “Rolling in the Deep,” and at least make for a nice triptych. But they don’t help what’s to come.
Kurstin returns with another six minute epic gab fest, “I Drink Wine,” a song I didn’t like on the CBS special but actually plays better in the officially recorded version. I think if it it were the only endless number about self-actualization, “I Drink Wine,” would stand out as something special. A gospel choir helps a lot. But what’s to come is not pretty.
After a jazz number adapted from Erroll Garner, Adele heads into the weeds. Three songs written by “Inflo” aka David Cover sound like they were found in Burt Bacharach’s waste basket. One number by Tobias Jesso Jr. and Shawn Everett, “To Be Loved,” starts with a piano intro a la Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” but lacks the gravitas and beauty of that song. The Inflo songs aim for momentum and even choruses, but the lyrics are so ponderous and artless you can’t imagine anyone singing them, let alone Adele.
What’s missing from “30” is fun. This woman has a lot of money, many homes, a kid she likes. So what if she’s divorced. Half the world is. “30” sounds like something with no focus and little enjoyment of music itself. I don’t get it. Maybe this is what comes from not having a milkshake or a burger occasionally. Or moving from London to Los Angeles.
And yes, “30” will set sales records this week, I’ve no doubt. Nothing I can say will affect that. But unlike with “25,” the previous album, it feels like a duty to see it into the millions, and not a happy discovery.