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Sade’s approach to making music is so well-considered – six albums in 36 years – it largely precludes the idea of deep cuts, but here’s one, a 1984 B-side, never subsequently rereleased and unlike anything else they (Sade is a band, not just the singer) ever recorded: up-tempo, chattering, dancefloor-facing, euphoric.
Sade’s hip-hop fandom is legendary – Drake, Rick Ross, Missy Elliott and Jay-Z are stans. The cool-but-impassioned vocal and minimalist slo-mo funk of Cherish the Day was sampled on the late Nipsey Hussle’s If U Were Mine, a tribute to how the singer, in Rakim’s words, “took out even the hardest hood at the knees”.
Lovers Rock’s closer is hushed and intimate – just an organ and occasional piano – but incredibly potent: weirdly, the rich, multitracked vocals and the atmosphere of sadness tinged with flickers of hope seem to prefigure the work of James Blake a decade later.
Far closer to lovers rock than anything on the Sade album named after the genre, Babyfather is melodically beautiful, bedecked with Jamaican-accented backing vocals and given a slight shimmer of darkness by the sense that the song’s narrator may be reassuring her daughter of her father’s undying fealty in the absence of any hard evidence.
Sade’s music always had a bleak social realist strain that belied the popular misconception of them as a tasteful yuppie soundtrack. Immigrant may be its most powerful expression, simmering with anger, filled with small, but sharply observed detail: “They gave him his change, but didn’t want to touch his hand.”
Sade’s only new releases in the past decade have been songs for films: stark ballad The Big Unknown from Widows and Flower of the Universe from Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. Both great, but the latter is the pick: drum-free, acoustic guitar, flecks of harp and wordless backing vocals that make it that rarest of things, an eerie Sade track.
The original is gorgeous – Sade’s voice floating over a beatless, barely-there backing of synths and pulsing bass – but the killer version of the track may be the Musk Men’s bootleg 1995 remix I Never Thought, which transforms the song into introverted, small-hours deep house.
There was a time when the idea of Sade writing and recording a dubby roots reggae track would have seemed nuts, but it turned out to be a genre to which they were remarkably well suited: Slave Song is terrific, the live version with roots legends the Abyssinians on backing vocals possibly even better.
Relatively up-tempo and boasting a very 1985 production – note the Art of Noise-esque sampled snatch of vocal – Never As Good As the First Time has a relaxed quality that suggests it’s a celebration of burgeoning romance, but no: it’s all downhill from here is the lyric’s impressively gloomy and fatalistic message.
As carefree as Sade ever got, there’s almost nothing to Paradise – two endlessly repeated chords, a bassline that stays the same throughout the song, a light sprinkling of funk guitar – but the breathily elated vocal perfectly captures the first ecstatic flush romance: “Ooh, what a life!”
Sade’s second album, Pride, was more autumnal than their summery sounding debut: its lead single opens with the sound of rain and there’s a distinct sadness about its chords and lyrics, as if the love it describes isn’t fully requited. Note also the 2011 live performance on YouTube, a masterclass in insouciant cool.
Sade often seem like a band that exist in their own, hermetically sealed world, impervious to the vagaries of fashion, but there’s a definite hint of contemporary R&B about the production on Soldier of Love’s title track. And yet it still sounds exactly like Sade, and Sade herself sounds completely imperious throughout.
The band Sade most obviously resembled weren’t their quiet storm contemporaries, but early 80s Roxy Music: you can hear it on Smooth Operator, where a glossy luxe-feeling sound coats a lyric that offers an ambiguous depiction of its jet-setting subject, its jaded tone clearer in the full-length album version: “Heaven help him when he falls.”
When am I Going to Make Living? is Sade’s equivalent of the Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities. Both could be misread as a paean to 80s greed and Thatcherite self-improvement, rather than a damning critique: their protagonists are at the bottom of the heap, scuffling to survive in an increasingly uncaring society.
No one does small-hours heartbreak quite like Sade and Bullet Proof Soul might be the supreme example: a vocal that’s yearning and controlled; a lyric that suggests bad karma will get the errant object of her desires; a perfectly understated arrangement of meandering sax, melancholy piano and drum machine.
Sade were a product of the pre-acid house London club scene dominated by the Wag, so it’s probably just a coincidence that 1988’s Stronger Than Pride felt distinctly Balearic: Love Is Stronger Than Pride sounds like a song glimpsed through a heat haze, slivers of cooing synth and Spanish guitar topped with an exquisitely airy vocal.
Sade’s US debut single, and probably Diamond Life’s highlight, Hang on to Your Love is a beautiful song and the perfect demonstration of what a mature-sounding band Sade were on arrival, minting a sound that they’ve refined over the past 36 years.
“It dives, it jumps and it ripples like the deepest ocean,” run the lyrics, which is as good a description as any of the song itself: a six-minute saga of romantic obsession that keeps surging from a verse that’s almost a whisper to a brass-heavy chorus, with a distinct toughness about the vocal.
You could call No Ordinary Love distilled essence of Sade, in that it manages to pack a heavy emotional punch while maintaining an air of effortlessness and elegance. One anomaly: the chugging distorted guitar, which suggests someone had taken note of grunge and which perhaps accounts for the subsequent cover by, of all people, the Deftones.
There’s a compelling argument that Lovers Rock is Sade’s masterpiece, a collection of deeply affecting meditations on parenthood, loss and race on which they simultaneously pared down and broadened out their sound: its tracks subtly encompass everything from hip-hop to reggae to singer-songwriter folksiness. And, in By Your Side, it has Sade’s greatest song: its hushed atmosphere not a million miles removed from Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, its melody so perfectly formed it feels instantly familiar, its lyrics simple but moving. How it isn’t the kind of modern standard that gets regularly murdered on The X Factor is an enduring mystery, although the 1975’s Auto-Tune-heavy cover is nice enough.
• This Far, a vinyl box set with remastered versions of Sade’s six albums, is released on 9 October on Sony Music
This content was originally published here.
Written by: admin