No one can express sadness quite like Adele. No one has the same ability to reduce grown adults to wailing heaps. Her 2011 single “Someone Like You” instantly became the heartbreak anthem of the age, a titled rivalled only by the singer’s other songs “Rolling in the Deep”, “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Make You Feel My Love” (a Bob Dylan cover). Her new single “Easy On Me”, released on Friday (15 October) after a six-year hiatus, follows in those footsteps.
“Easy On Me” opens with Adele’s customary mournful piano, a few plaintive notes that tell us this is going to be a big one. When she enters in the middle of her range – “There is no gold in this river,” the opening line of a metaphor-heavy first verse – she sounds immediately older and wiser, which of course she is.
That voice, which has held the power of a full choir since Adele was a teenager, has somehow developed even further; the huge melodic leaps that make her music so memorable sound impossibly easy to sing. As the song builds it makes full use of the singer’s range and control of her upper register, yet it remains simple and raw throughout.
Musically, this is no departure from previous material. With Adele you know exactly what you’re getting: a soaring melody, a punch in the gut and a broken heart. But this song, and the upcoming album, picks over her divorce and signals, it seems, full maturity; a transformation of sorts. She has transformed physically too: significant weight loss prompted feverish discussions about her body online, which, the singer told Vogue earlier this month, she found difficult to observe.
The album, called 30 – the age she got divorced – does not only wallow in the personal tragedy of relationship breakdown but actively addresses its impact on her and her ex-partner’s son, now aged nine. Knowing this, it is difficult not to apply a double meaning to the new track: the plea to “go easy on me baby” is as much to her son; her explanations – “I was just a child, I didn’t have the chance/To feel the world around me” – implore him to understand.
Adele is pop royalty – immune even to the temporary “cancellation” she was subjected to for cultural appropriation at Notting Hill Carnival in 2019. Of course this is in no small part because of her talent, that unique ability to concentrate a big fat emotion into three minutes of music and deliver it with ease and grace. But it is also because Adele appears authentic: she is always utterly herself. She was humble and apologetic about the carnival incident, and though her appearance has changed, her overall aesthetic has been maintained since her first album. Adele channels perfectly both the girl-next-door and glamorous superstar: this duality is why she is so widely adored.
“Easy On Me” is straightforward, unfussy, catchy and, at times, repetitive. For all these reasons it is an instant classic – a song for karaoke bars, the end of weddings, car journeys, nights together and nights alone. It’s not complex or groundbreaking but when played it eclipses everything, grips you tightly and says, ‘remember, you’re alive?’ This is, surely, what pop music is for – and Adele well knows it.