Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Belated Valentine: Sade Returns

There is something to be said for an artist who can take off TEN years from making an album and still be relevant.  It seems many of my favorite artists do this.  They keep me entertained for several years on their scant portfolio of music, almost creating a greater appreciation for their art.  And then one day, a new work comes out and you find that all that you loved once about that musician has returned in glorious, gleaming aural beauty.  Yes, the artist formerly known as Helen Folasade Adu is one such artist.  Sade has returned, as fresh as ever.

I confess a certain crush on her beauty.  Born in Nigeria and raised in Britain, Adu makes 50 look like the new 30.  My wife was born in Ethiopia and raised in Italy.  There is an undeniable intrigue about a woman whose playground has been the world.  They carry themselves differently, they age differently and mature with the same velvety sensibilities as fine wine.  

Granted, many people pigeon-hole Sade as one of those VH-1 performers who wind up in the dreaded "Adult Contemporary" category.  And with Sting, they'd be right.   The video for the new single, "Soldier of Love" is contemporary and shows maturity(even if a little Janet Jackson-esque), but I'd hardly call her washed up or ready for an exorcism on "Behind the Music". 

Sade's voice is one of the most recognizable on the airwaves.  It is sultry, educated, firm and lilting all at once.  On "Soldier of Love", the latest release and single, the first words are sung after a commanding new wave tango beat and trumpet call- and you ask yourself, "Is this Sade?"  Yes.  Her voice has matured and sounds to have dropped an octave, that is until she begins a refrain about losing the use of her heart, but still being alive.  "I'm at the borderline of my faith. I'm at the hinterland of my devotion."  This is Sade's "Frozen" period.  

Just like Madonna, Sade and her long time producer Mike Pela, have found the proper polish for her bronze voice with lovely instrumental couplings.  "Morning Bird" has the very familiar feel to the "Love Deluxe" years, but with the addition of undoctored solo piano, it's an amazingly fresh sound.  Sade shows the healthy range of her voice in between haunting cello, piano and a barely audible arabesque tambourine beat.  This type of empty-room, musica triste sound is what can be found on another of my favorite artists' newish releases "Antidepressant" (2006) by Lloyd Cole.

"Be That Easy" is a lush, lazy waltz with reverberating psycho-billy guitars and snare brushes that could easily be a Julie Cruise tune written for a David Lynch film were it not for the warm layered harmonies.  Instead of scaring the shit out of you, it makes you want to pull up a big heavy quilt and watch the snow fall as you drift off for a monster nap.

As the album progresses, it doesn't seem possible the sounds could get more lush, but they do.  "In Another Time" sees the first appearance of the trademark saxophone we all associate with the Smooth Operator.  Heartbeat-type down tempo beats are another signature of many Sade tracks.  "Skin" lopes along with the same kind of retro-soul beat of an even more chill version of "Sexual Healing" from Marvin Gaye, as she simultaneously references "Michael- back in the day".   If you're thinking this is the perfect Sunday Album, you would be dead on.  There is so much to like on this release that when you consider how long it's been since her last release, it makes you a little giddy and a little sad all at once.  A mere 10 tracks and just over 41 minutes, less is definitely more.  

With lyrics that reference the moon, birds, love warriors and lost chances, flames and a safe hiding place for your broken heart ("The Safest Place"), "Soldier of Love", as with all six previous releases, reaches for the inner heart strings of anyone who has ever loved the music Helen Sade Adu makes for the world to enjoy.

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