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  • Writer's pictureEvan

A Masterful Discography: Sade

Comprised of guitarist and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, bassist Paul Denman, keyboarder Andrew Hale, and vocalist Sade Adu, Sade are one of the greatest bands in pop and soul history. Their warm, seductive blend of dance-pop grooves and sensual R&B elements has stood the test of time, with the band’s catalogue sounding as fresh today as it did in the 1980s. With only six albums, Sade have covered an array of elegant sounds, and the result is one of the most masterful discographies in music.

Diamond Life (1984)

The band’s debut is one of their strongest efforts. Sade Adu herself has such a strong, commanding presence, belting her voice on the cuts of balladry laced between stretches of summery dance-pop. The opener, “Smooth Operator”, shows off all the band’s strengths from the very start, with Sade’s smooth voice strengthened by the elegant backdrop of glittering keys and ever-moving saxophone. Her storytelling about a slick heartbreaker poisoning romance across America is so simple yet so effective, with Adu’s expressive, almost theatrical voice adding to the narrative. The rest of the album is just as glamorous and polished. “Hand On to Your Love” has a punching funk bassline that sounds like something ripped straight from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The instrumental bridge brings the song to a powerful crescendo with Hale’s keys taking the spotlight as the bass and backing vocals swirl around his solo. Above all, “Frankie’s First Affair” stands out as one of the best songs in the band’s history. Adu tells the story of Frankie, a woman prone to infidelity whose heart is broken when, for the first time, she is the one cheated on. The despairing saxophone gives the track such a crestfallen tone, and as Adu’s vocals rise, the saxophone rises in harmony, making for an impactful climax where the emotion of the track is just as vivid in the instruments as in Sade’s vocals. In every regard, Diamond Life is gorgeous, and the band could not have started their catalogue in a finer way.

Promise (1985)

Just a year later, Sade returned with Promise, an album far more sombre than its predecessor. The album kicks off with “Is It a Crime,” a contender for the greatest song the band has ever put out. Adu’s vocals start off as hesitant and whispery, but as the instrumentation gradually builds, her voice gains power, reaching its climax on the chorus where she yells about her feelings for her ex-lover. As her vocals become louder, the drums crash, the sax wails – the instrumental acts as a reflection of her emotions, building upon the drama of the track and making for an emotionally potent opener that showcases the effortless ability of each bandmember. Promise is full of these dramatic ballads, but the album is kept from feeling dreary by the straightforward pop tunes mottled throughout the tracklist to lighten the mood. Brilliant examples are “The Sweetest Taboo” with its infectious chorus, and “Never as Good as the First Time” with a groovy back and forth between the bass and keys. On this album, Sade’s ability to embody emotion in their sound is unleashed to the fullest, making for a record less catchy but equally as impactful as their debut.

Stronger Than Pride (1988)

Compared to their first two albums, Stronger Than Pride is noticeably weaker, but that’s not to say it’s a subpar record. On the contrary – with Adu’s vocals as intimate as ever, complemented by a stripped back soundscape, the album embodies this mellow sound more atmospheric than any of their previous work. There are still danceable moments – such as the crackling percussion and hypnotic chorus on “Paradise” or the upbeat bassline on “Turn My Back On You” – but otherwise, Stronger Than Pride consists of sparse, patient instrumentals and a surprisingly relaxed performance from Sade herself. At times, the sparsity of the instrumentation works to the album’s detriment. For example, the bubbling percussion and therapeutic backing vocals on the title track are mesmerising, but beyond the first minute, the song does not change much, without that evolution in the instrumentation or vocal performance to keep it captivating. Furthermore, the spacey sound of “Give It Up” with its somewhat monotonous hook comes off as simplistic compared to the intricate heights of Sade’s finest work. The songs are far from bad, but the thin production leaves many feeling a little half-baked compared to the ever-changing bliss of tracks off Diamond Life and Promise.

Love Deluxe (1992)

Only releasing one album in the 1990s, Sade had a surprisingly quiet decade compared to their ‘80s run, but the single record they did release is the magnum opus of their discography. Unlike the minimalist approach the band took on Stronger Than Pride, their sound is grand and lush on Love Deluxe, while maintaining that rich sense of atmosphere. “No Ordinary Love” is the monstrous seven-minute intro to the record, basking the listener in the dense, soulful production before Adu comes in with some of her most enchanting vocal work ever. The momentum is kept up with “Feel No Pain”, a funky pop banger whose grim depiction of an impoverished family is juxtaposed by the irresistibly groovy bassline. From a production standpoint, Love Deluxe is the band’s strongest album. Every bassline is entrancing; the ambient keys and synths build such a magical atmosphere; the silky sax work, though infrequent, adds another layer of elegance. Sade’s writing is at her sharpest, exploring the tragic life of a desperate Somali woman on “Pearls” and detailing the shame a war veteran feels for his violent misdeeds on “Like a Tattoo”. With a diverse range of themes, Adu bends her voice in so many different ways to fit the anguish or ecstasy of any given track, making Love Deluxe her most dynamic performance.

Lovers Rock (2000)

Although it has its moments, Lovers Rock is quite easily my least favourite album from Sade. There isn’t a bad song to be heard, but the standouts are nowhere near as compelling as the highlights from their first four records. Lovers Rock is a strange combination of sounds, with a heavy emphasis on acoustic guitar, synthesisers, and slow, trip hop style percussion. This change of pace starts of refreshing, but the frequent usage of simple guitar melodies begins to feel monotonous, with many tracks blending into one another. “By Your Side” starts the album on a high note, with some romantic, inviting vocals from Sade coupled by the warm strum of a guitar and the occasional burst of keys. “Flow” takes the album in a downtempo direction, with a moody bassline and hip hop style drums that give the otherwise mellow track a much-needed punch. “King of Sorrow” is one of few Sade songs that doesn’t compel me much at all. Its simple guitar melody is oddly derivative, and Adu’s soft performance is not enough to save the song from being one of their sleepier tunes. Similarly, “Somebody Already Broke My Heart” is underwhelming – its soundscape is like a void where sounds ebb and flow, never coming together into a complete piece. It fails to capture that same atmospheric beauty that worked to the band’s favour on Stronger Than Pride. However, tracks like “Slave Song” and “Immigrant” are brilliant, with Adu’s staccato delivery adding to the theme of being treated inhumanely, reciting her lines in a strangely unnatural fashion. Lovers Rock is full of compelling ideas, but fails to tie them all together into a cohesive whole.

Soldier of Love (2010)

A decade later, Sade returned for their sixth and (as of now) final album. Like Lovers Rock before it, on Soldier of Love, the band completely disregard the dance-pop sound that brought them to fame, favouring a more acoustic soundscape. However, unlike their last record, the natural sound of this album works in its favour, with a diverse range of ideas scattered throughout the project, tied together by a captivating performance from Sade Adu. Despite the album releasing twenty-six years after Diamond Life, Adu sounds as if she hasn’t aged a day. Her voice still holds all the same strength and elegance that made her such an enchanting vocalist. The ever-changing layers of instrumentation on “The Moon and the Sky” are balanced out by the crisp percussion, keeping the densely detailed song from sounding messy. The title track, “Soldier of Love”, makes brilliant use of electric guitar and marching drums to evoke the tense atmosphere of war, in turn making this one of Sade’s most sinister tunes. “The Safest Place” serves as the album’s gorgeous closer, where Adu glides over a lush blend of strings and guitar that close off the band’s final effort beautifully. Soldier of Love may not have the danceable grooves of Diamond Life nor the theatrical balladry of Love Deluxe, but its versatile sound and consistent performance from Sade Adu make it an exciting highlight from the band where every risk pays off. Whether this is the final album from Sade or not, looking back after Soldier of Love, it’s undeniable that the band have a truly masterful discography.

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