Falling slowly and undramatically out of love with the father of your child, breaking up amicably, and buying him a house across the street from you is hardly standard fodder for a break-up ballad. But Adele has never really gone in for broad-strokes emotions. On “Easy On Me”, her first single in six years, the world’s finest chronicler of heartbreak is neither victim nor villain; instead, she addresses her nine-year-old son, attempting to explain to him why she chose to take apart the life he knew.
“Go easy on me, baby,” sings the 33-year-old in that big, raspy voice – it feels good to have it back – over an elegiac piano redolent of Taylor Swift and Justin Vernon’s in “Exile”. “I was still a child/ Didn’t get the chance to feel the world around me.”
“I just felt like I wanted to explain to [my son], through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness,” explained the singer, who filed for divorce from her husband Simon Konecki in 2019, in a recent interview with Vogue. “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.”
“Easy On Me” is an exposed wound in itself. It is among the singer’s most musically complex, too. Adele warned that her forthcoming album 30 – she has reneged on her vow to stop naming records after her age – would have no equivalent to “Hello”, the bombastic, chart-topping, record-smashing lead single from 2015’s 25. Certainly, the chorus here doesn’t have a melody to grab onto in the way that song did, its notes flitting like a skimmed pebble – but it is no less of a punch to the solar plexus. Produced by Greg Kurstin, with whom she worked on “Hello” (both music videos were directed by Xavier Dolan, too), it has the same crispness as that previous collaboration, the same plaintive tone – it’s just a little more elaborate. Dare I say mature?
By the way, anyone concerned that Adele’s new LA lifestyle had sucked the London out of her will be pleased to hear the distinct “f” sound at the start of the word “things”. Her songs are always polished but never to the point of soullessness. “I never redo my vocals. Never. Never ever,” she recently insisted – and with a voice like that, why would she?
Adele realised something writing this new music: “I was the problem. ’Cause all the other albums are like, ‘You did this! You did that! F*** you! Why can’t you arrive for me?’ Then I was like: ‘Oh, s***, I’m the running theme, actually. Maybe it’s me!’” If this is the soundtrack to that epiphany, sign me up.
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