song review

There Is Still Nothing Like New Adele

Once or twice per decade she comes back tapping on all our pressure points like a veteran acupuncturist. Photo: Adele/YouTube

I thought I was sitting down to write about why the new Adele single “Easy on Me” is devastating but also formulaic, and how it’s fascinating that her intention was to have a single that came from a different place than 2015’s booming, autumnal, conciliatory “Hello,” and how “Easy On Me” touches all of the same points of interest anyhow. Adele is the best-selling artist of our time by a great distance, I’d argue, because long ago, she found our emotional median — the one thing we have in common, a desire to love and be loved, to give respect and be respected — and once or twice per decade comes back tapping on all our pressure points like a veteran acupuncturist. On the other side of the initial prick of pain, there is revelation, relief.

Thing is, “Easy on Me” isn’t for me or you. It isn’t necessarily directed solely at Simon Konecki, the 21-era boyfriend Adele wed in 2018 and recently divorced, either. It’s an account of the dissolution of a marriage for the benefit of the child it directly affected. It’s an impassioned defense of a difficult choice, and a request for grace and understanding. This is not a call to smooth things over with an ex, like “Hello.” Really, “Easy on Me” is an artifact for Adele’s 9-year-old son, an attempt to explain why his parents must live across the street from each other now, a delicate handling of a painful situation. Adele being Adele, she phrases this message in a way that makes it accessible to all of us, even if the specifics of this story are unique to her.

This realization quieted my reservations about the song, and on repeat plays, the effortless excellence of the vocals jumped out. Presumably, this is a first take. Adele isn’t the kind of singer who records a zillion passes at a song, then splices a flawless finished product out of them. You’re hearing the original demo, as is reiterated in her recent Vogue cover story. The unfussed runs, the gentle gliding in and out of that golden falsetto, the patient poise of the verses, and the catharsis of the choruses are a lot like observing a fearless pilot in aerobatics, or a death-defying skate part. There’s an athleticism to it.

This is impressive even if, on the surface, this single doesn’t much endeavor to push the singer very far beyond the vibe and instrumentation of past hits like “When We Were Young” and “Hometown Glory,” even if you could hazard a guess as to what it might sound like and what personnel might be in the room — producer Greg Kurstin from 25 is back, and the video is directed by Xavier Dolan, who also directed the clip for “Hello” — before the first eeeee washed over you. (It’s early yet; maybe 30 is a new beginning.) It’s funny: Adele told Vogue she sort of hoped the new single wouldn’t be quite the tidal wave that “Hello” was, that “Easy on Me” wouldn’t elevate her to a new level of fame and recognition, as her last lead single did six Octobers ago. I suspect this will be the only endeavor she fails at in 2021.

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There Is Still Nothing Like New Adele