Sade returns with hit album ‘Soldier’

A lot of today’s chart‑topping musicians are the auditory equivalent of flings, rushing out tracks of low‑quality fluff. When the instant gratification fades, you’re usually left with dissatisfaction. But contrast this with a multi‑platinum, BRIT (British Recording Industry Trust) and Grammy‑winning band that has just released its first album in a decade. British R&B band Sade’s newest release, Soldier of Love, gives the impression that it qualifies for a long‑term, long‑distance relationship: an intriguing and compelling commitment, it has substance in spades and is well worth the wait.

Sade is named after the band’s vocalist and frontwoman. Born Helen Folasade Adu, this daughter of a Nigerian economics professor and an English nurse was always called by a shortened version of her middle name. While at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, she sang backup for the London Latin funk band Pride. She and some other musicians in the group attracted Epic Records with their song “Smooth Operator,” which she co‑wrote. Adu, along with Stuart Colin Matthewman on the guitar and saxophone, Paul Spencer Denman on the bass, and Andrew Hale on keyboard, split from Pride in 1984 to release their first album, Diamond Life.

Two years later Sade won a Grammy for “Best New Artist.” Diamond Life and each successive album – Promise, Stronger than Pride and Love Deluxe – went platinum several times over. Of their latest album, Adu wrote on her official Web site “I only make records when I feel I have something to say. I’m not interested in releasing music just for the sake of selling something. Sade is not a brand.” This album will be a testimony to the longevity of Sade’s appeal, as the music community holds it breath to see whether the band can simply pick up where it left off.

Their music is a smooth fusion of R&B, soul, jazz, soft rock, funk and quiet storm that draws inspiration from artists like Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers. Adu, in throaty and powerful tones, portrays her relationships as if she were a crusader in a remote land. Set to the rhythm of syncopated snare drums, lines like “I’ve lost the use of my heart/ But I’m still alive” portray the other side of romance. It’s fortunate that the percussion‑heavy backdrop to Sade’s lyrics in the track “Soldier of Love” is compelling, because the song is the highlight of the album.

In its entirety, Solider of Love showcases Adu’s rich voice against a backdrop of understated, skilled instrumentals. Each song consists of a few repeated lines; the lyrics trek through the highs and lows of interpersonal relationships. Its opening track, “The Moon and the Sky,” is a synthesizer‑laced heartbreak ballad; her smooth voice easily shifts from there to play off of the twanging guitars in “Be that Easy.” Within the repertoire are songs about love as merely a place of stasis, such as “A Long, Hard Road.” Despite the variety of content, no song strays too far from the medium of peaceful auditory ambience. The lighthearted reggae-esque narrative of “Babyfather” has back-up vocauls from Adu’s daughter, Ila. Adu ends her album on a high note with phrases, both musical and literary, that craft a refuge for her feelings: “In my heart/Your love has found/The safest hiding place.” Exploring the spectrum of attraction within the range of Adu’s surefooted voice is an enjoyable, if not earth‑shattering, ride.

An appreciation for Sade’s musical style won’t be instant or casual. But, like any complex persona, repeated exposure increases understanding. Long‑time fans of the band will not be disappointed by this solid collection of new material even after the unusually long wait. Adu herself is unapologetic about her band’s extensive hiatus.

“You can only grow as an artist as long as you allow yourself the time to grow as a person,” she said on her Web site. “We’re all parents, our lives have all moved on. I couldn’t have made Soldier of Love any time before now, and though it’s been a long wait for the fans – and I am sorry about that – I’m incredibly proud of it.” One hopes the band will soon return to the full extent of its strengths, so that the new generation may fall more deeply in love.

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