Upon first listen, “Easy On Me” masquerades as classic Adele.
The hallmarks of the British superstar’s best-selling brand of pop are all there on her feverishly anticipated new single — the stately piano-and-vocals intro of “Hello,” the extended chorus syllables of “Someone Like You,” the subtle yet crucial bridge placement of “When We Were Young.” And then, of course, there’s Adele’s voice, as soulful an instrument as exists in modern music, and the primary reason she’s been able to transcend any trends that may be inhabiting the world whenever she returns to our orbit. Hearing that irreplaceable tone breathe the words “There ain’t no gold” in the opening seconds of “Easy On Me” induces precisely the same goosebumps as “Hello… it’s me…” did six years ago.
Yet “Easy On Me,” which leads Adele’s forthcoming album 30, is not more of the same, no matter how closely parts of the track (which Adele created with longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin) resemble her past smashes. Instead of offering more tear duct-ravaging balladry focused on long-gone exes or scorned romances, “Easy On Me” presents a different type of devastation: a plea for understanding, following a breakup that has caused too much collateral damage.
“There ain’t no room for things to change / When we are both so deeply stuck in our ways,” Adele sings, her words decisive and her voice determined to get her point across. Throughout, Adele balances anthemic phrasing (can’t you already picture a crowded karaoke bar belting out “Go e-e-e-e-easy on me, baby”?) with pointed imagery (“I know there is hope in these waters / But I can’t bring myself to swim / When I am drowning in this silence” is the song’s biggest knockout). Adele has already suggested that 30 will try to explain her divorce to her young son — a complex topic, and not typical for pop radio. But with “Easy On Me,” Adele sells the concept with grand gestures toward the search of empathy, presenting a tearjerker about forgiveness instead of a fight.
“Easy On Me” will likely be inescapable this fall, just as “Hello” was six years ago; such is the continued commercial might of Adele. What a pleasure it is, though, to grow alongside her, to witness how her singular talent will synthesize the different phases of life into full-length statements that capture the mainstream’s attention. With “Easy On Me,” Adele has approached a painful experience with wisdom and grace. She’s entered 30, and she sounds ready to share what it’s like.