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Adele, "30" (Columbia)

We've marveled at Adele's vocal control, her finesse, her mastery of tone. But in the most moving song on her long-awaited new album, she climaxes with what can only be described as a howl of pain.

Adele has suggested that "To Be Loved," a slow, stark piano ballad, was inspired in part by her late father's emotional neglect. Yet the song also feels like the key to understanding the singer's fourth studio LP, which addresses her recent divorce from Simon Konecki, with whom she shares a 9-year-old son.

Yes, there are tunes here about how that relationship unraveled and about the toll it's taking on the child. "My Little Love," a lush soul jam, features voice-memo snippets of the kid asking his mom about her "big feelings."

Named like all of Adele's albums after the age at which she began writing it, "30" also has songs in which she's ready to move on from her breakup, most notably the frisky "Can I Get It."

More than gossip, though, "30" offers deep thoughts on love's causes and consequences; it uses Adele's personal experiences to power a philosophical examination into why love fails and what it means for the people involved.

Her singing — gorgeous even at its rawest — gives these musings the blood-and-guts believability her fans crave. There's some of the brainy energy of Joni Mitchell's "Blue" here, though it's filtered through the homey wisdom of Carole King's "Tapestry."

The timelessness of "30's" themes suits Adele, who's remained steadfast in her musical identity as the record industry has changed dramatically. She brings a smattering of new sounds — "Cry Your Heart" rides a crisp Motown-gone-reggae beat, while the jittery avant-folk arrangement in "Woman Like Me" could almost pass for a Radiohead demo.

Most of the time, though, Adele knows that all the drama she needs is right there in her songs. In her life. And in our lives, too.

MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times

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