If you went by only what I tend to cover in these pages, you'd be forgiven for thinking all I listen to is 80s metal and electronica. And while I certainly enjoy both of those genres, I don't actually listen to all that much of either week-to-week. Oh sure I go through phases, and that's when I usually come up with a post about something. I guess that's the case here, as well; I've been in a Sade bubble for many months now and here we are.
Sooner or later, though, whatever genre you enjoy, you have to realize that "Smooth Operator" is the greatest song ever recorded. It's not even my personal favorite Sade song - that'd be "Paradise" probably - just yeah. A rite of passage, you might say.
I'm spellbound by these guys. I've liked them for many years but only truly began to appreciate their body of work over the past couple. Amazing stuff. The sonic landscape they create between the four of them (as augmented live and in the studio by four or five other guys) is timeless and remarkable. Sade is a great band for that worthiest of reasons - it feels great to listen to them. And extra points for creating it all from the ground up.
Sade, of course, refers to the collective band. Like Van Halen, except very much not like Van Halen.
|Left to right: Paul Denman (bass), Helen Folasade Adu (vocals, lyrics), Andrew Hale (keyboards), Stu Matthewman (guitars, sax.) All songs written by the band.|
Since everyone calls Helen Adu "Sade", though, I'll do the same here. Where necessary I'll clarify which Sade I'm talking about, the band or the singer. Otherwise, I'll try and keep things as breezy as possible. You can read more on the early days of the band here, and here's something more recent from Sade herself.
With much further Adu (sorry - truly, I'm sorry), here then are my Favorite Sade Records, Ranked Least to Most.
"While Lovers Rock is not any sort of departure from the quiet ballads that marked the group's first three albums, there is an element of freshness that aligns Sade with the current electronic music insurgence while still maintaining a distinctly analog outlook on love's foibles."
So said Wall of Sound at the time of the album's release. Although Lovers Rock (named for the unofficial genre, i.e. "rock for lovers") is my least favorite of the band's, it's still a pretty great record. I've never actually experienced weightlessness or floating in an isolation tank, but I'd be disappointed if either of those did not resemble a spin of Lovers Rock.
And if you're someone who doesn't like the saxophone, this one's for you; Stu confines himself solely to guitar. And woodwinds. No sax to be found on this one, though.
Produced like every other Sade record by Mike Pela. The two music videos produced for this album -
|"By Your Side"|
|and "King of Sorrow" -|
are typically lush and colorful efforts from Sophie Muller, who directed all but a handful of the band's videos and photographed several of the covers. But they're not my favorite tracks. All the songs are really sweet, even the allegedly political ones like "Immigrant" or "Slave Song." I guess they nod in a political direction, but Sade (Ms. Adu) is a hazy lyricist. I mean that in a good way. Her words are poetic and oblique, and she circles and evokes topics without literalizing them. Slate Magazine disagrees in its review of the album, regarding it as a "concept album (of) love and lovers." That's kind of a stretch for me - or rather, it might be somewhat accurate, but it's accurate about every Sade album, isn't it? (Maybe 80% of recorded music in general?)
Anyway, the only track here that I include among my favorite Sade songs is "Somebody Already Broke My Heart." It wasn't released as a single, but this live version from the "comeback" tour Lovers Live was. Love the guitar sound on that one, as well as the bass; Paul Denman has just the right touch.
Future POTUS Kanye West referred to Soldier of Love's release as the reason he still kept a blog, "to be a part of moments like this." He doesn't keep a blog anymore - maybe he'll resurrect it if Sade ever puts out another record. (Rumors abound for one in 2017. But we'll see.)
Until that happens, this remains Sade's last excursion in the studio. It's a different-sounding record from the band, although it fits with their discography. It was met with scorn by some critics ("I'm glad she finally put some beats on her sang-froid," wrote a typically dismissive-of-the-other-band-members reviewer for MSN Music) but most (fans as well as critics) received it very positively.
There were two videos produced for the album's two singles, the title track and "Babyfather," easily the best track on the album.
|The same kind of sorrowful celebration of parental triumph and anguish explored in "King of Sorrow," but this one is more successful.|
|As for the "Soldier of Love" video, here's an amusing review.|
"Judging by this video, it might not be presumptuous to say that Sade is a fan of grocery store romance novels. The whole video, with its melodramatic clouds of passion and wild, unbridled stallions, screams of dime novel artwork. The only thing it's missing is Fabio. But that doesn't detract from the beautiful atmosphere Sade has put together in this video."
True. That goes for the "Babyfather" video as well. And as the reviewer points out, Sade (Ms. Adu - though I suppose it could go for all of them, particularly as directed by Sophie Muller) is a gifted visual storyteller / performance artist as well as vocalist and musician.
The title track (memorably remixed i.e. completely obscured by Ghostface Killah) reminds me a little of Lauren Hill's "You Just Lost One." Maybe I'm just thinking of the double-tracked vocals and some of the drum sequencing. Outside of that and a couple of other sequencing choices, though, it's another sparsely arranged and anti-gravity affair. "Be That Easy" has the pace and mood of later-era Bob Dylan.
While there are a few tracks on Love Deluxe ("Bullet Proof Soul," "Pearls," and "I Couldn't Love You More") that are not personal favorites, this album is just start-to-finish wonderful. Really, this is the CD that made me a Sade fan, although I didn't realize that for many years. It imprinted itself unobtrusively upon the backdrop of the 90s for me and when I was finally ready to appreciate it, it had the pleasant feel of familiar ground even though I hadn't been consciously aware of it. If that makes any sense.
This one opens with "No Ordinary Love," just a fantastic production, particularly that hun-hun-hun-hun-sounding electronic string section. Just a beautiful song from top to bottom.
Mermaids must have been on her mind, as there's even a track by that name to close out the album. (It's good - maybe even a tad Jan Hammer-y.) Other videos from the album include "Feel No Pain", which has kind of an odd lyrical vibe to it. Is this some kind of "Don't let our men get hooked on painkillers and then they're long-term unemployed" message? I think it is. If so, a) Sade was way ahead of their time, b) the music, which is kinda contact-buzzy, is at odds with the message, and c) the video further confuses things.
|Kind of a "Wicked Game" vibe to this one. Not sure who this guy is - can't find any proper credits. Anyway, what the hell any of this has to do with long-term unemployment brought on by drug use is beyond me. Not that it has to make sense.|
The other videos were for "Kiss Of Life" and "Cherish the Day," both two of my favorite tracks from this album. The latter has that wonderfully haunting guitar motif - "riff" seems like the wrong word for it - and the former is uber-breezy. Twirling-rainsticks-at-the-mellowest-Natural-Wonders-at-the-Honolulu-airport breezy.
|Neither charted very highly, but they really get in your head.|
The tour for this album netted the DVD Sade Live. I've got that, as well as Lovers Live and a few bootlegs of their Soldier of Love tour. I'll put all that together for a Sade (Live) post, though, in the days to come.
"On Diamond Life, the group, abetted by talented studio musicians, eschews the synthesizers that dominate British pop to make music that resembles a cross between the rock-jazz of Steely Dan and the West Indian-flavored folk-pop of Joan Armatrading. Smoldering Brazilian rhythms blend with terse pop-soul melodies and jazzy harmonies to create a sultry, timeless nightclub ambiance."
- original New York Times review, Jan 1985
That Steely Dan line makes me wonder what that group's music would sound like if sung by Ms. Adu. Or if Donald Fagan sang all these songs on Diamond Life. I don't know if such an experiment would yield agreeable results, but it's interesting to consider.
The band's debut contains five top-drawer Sade tunes ("Smooth Operator," Your Love Is King," "Hang On To Your Love," "Cherry Pie," and "I Will Be Your Friend") and four lesser but still enchanting tracks. Of these last four, "Frankie's First Affair" and "When Am I Going To Make a Living?" (which brings to mind the Supremes a little bit, though I seem to be the only one who thinks so) are my faves.
Of the five top-drawer ones, we've already touched on "Smooth Operator." That was actually the third single from this album; the first was "Your Love Is King." A smoother slice of neo-soul, 80s or otherwise, is hard to find. There was a video for "Hang On To Your Love," as well, which has that great bridge "So if you want it to get stronger, you'd better not let go..."
|Each of these videos are good examples of the 80s music video aesthetic, but perhaps "Hang On to Your Love" most of all.|
(Who would have thought there could be two acoustically-perfect-if-aesthetically-night-and-day songs entitled "Cherry Pie!" Truly we are an ungrateful species.)
I've mentioned my love of "Paradise," but this album has three of my other favorites, as well: "Nothing Can Come Between Us" (what a fun bass line; it's like Seinfeld's smoky-jazz-cousin), "Keep Looking" (not to overuse the term, but again, perfection), and "Siempre Hay Esperanza."
That last one may remind those of a certain age of neon montages with steam rising from grates cross-cut with slow-motion lingerie tumblings on Cinemax or something, which, while understandable, shouldn't prevent anyone from floating along with it. Friend-of-the-Omnibus Bryant Burnette once referred to all sax solos in the 80s as being performed by the "I Still Believe" guy from The Lost Boys. He's onto something there, and the exception that proves that rule is Stu Matthewman on tracks like this.
|Although, it's still pretty fun to picture the Lost Boys dude (r) wailing away on this one regardless. I'm a sucker for the easy joke.|
|"Siempre" is a great choice to end the album as well. Sade does well in this regard overalll. I like a band that appreciates the art of song order.|
The title track is pretty damn stratospheric, as well. "Clean Heart," all of them - good lord, such an embarrassment of riches here. "Turn My Back on You," especially. Such an underrated tune.
Here we are at the top of the pops. Only one track ("You're Not the Man") fails to enchant me here, and I'm sure that one's just as beautiful as the rest of them, it just doesn't speak to me as much.
Let's take this track by track. Album opener (and second single) "Is It a Crime" sounds like a big band orchestra, but amazingly all of that sound comes from just four people. Well, plus four or five other guys for horns and percussion. Still, though, I've come to the conclusion that the four core members need to be contextualized properly among the greatest quartets of the 80s on down to now.
|The video's one of those mini-movie deals; better just to crank the song.|
From there we go to one of Sade's other signature tunes, "The Sweetest Taboo." Which, for God's sake, if you don't love this song, what the hell is wrong with you for real. They should use this song to test for autism or something. You've heard it a million times but really listen to how this bass part comes into things here. That's just one of them; here's another.
|The song's just so pleasing to the mind, soul, and blood pressure.|
"War of the Hearts" - very theatrical, another one whose effect on the brain and nervous system should be classified as medicinal. And again, good song-order going on here; this is a perfect third song for this album.
"Jezebel" - a big one for other Sade fans. Obviously a beautiful tune and all, just not a personal fave. I'd be foolish to rate it anything but top notch of course.
"Mr. Wrong" - more of a vignette, but it's short, and the musical envelope is nice.
"Punch Drunk" - everything I wrote about the neon-streetwalking-big-hair-steam-rising-from-gutters-montage for "Siempe Hay Esperanza" applies here, but it's an appreciated instrumental break. All about the mood with these guys, and this sets up the next one nicely.
"Never As Good As the First Time" - one everyone knows, but not necessarily by name. What a great track.
|Again with the horses, though. FF's sake, Sade.|
"Fear" - I love this one even though I'm not sure I quite get it. But I don't need to get it. Has an almost Pink Floyd-ian quality in spots.
"Tar Baby" - Interesting lyrics, not quite what one might think with that title. Beautifully sung, as always, and another Matthewman/ Adu soundscape masterpiece.
And as always, a well-chosen album closer, "Maureen." Such an 80s groove going on here! I guess I've written variations of that a few times in these reviews. Most of the tunes transition the decades quite well. This one, as well, but yeah, just a bit of an 80s groove and nothing wrong with that.
I'll be back with a post about their live DVDs. Before I go, though, during the hiatus between Love Deluxe and Lovers Rock, Stu, Andrew, and Paul released a few albums under the name Sweetback. Some of their songs ("Gaze") sound very Sade-esque while others ("Arabesque") are more suitable for Laura Palmer, perhaps, to sway to in front of a strobe light. Still others are a tad too much on the radio pop side of things for me, but if you enjoy Sade, you'll certainly enjoy the two Sweetback CDs as well.
Long live Sade. Accept no substitutes.