Few recording artists in the time of continuing shrinking record distribution, digital music downloads, and a never-ending recession, would receive the posh red carpet rollout exhibited last night (Dec. 14) at New York's historic Lincoln Center. But not every artist has the immense mystique and event-like cache of Sade, an act who has meticulously stayed away from the proverbial spotlight since her neo jazz-based 1984 debut Diamond Life.
At an exclusive listening party for the Nigerian-born British singer-songwriter's sixth studio release Soldier of Love (due Feb. 8), the atmosphere was as elegant as the 50-year old singer herself. Pink roses, pear bellinis, and a mammoth window overlooking a postcard-worthy view of Manhattan's bustling Columbus Circle proved to be a savvy backdrop. But you get the sense that the diverse range of individuals who made it out to hear Sade's first new studio album in nearly a decade (who else could get the likes of golden age hip hop producer DJ Marley Marl, legendary radio personality Tom Joyner and the New York Times' respected veteran music critic Jon Pareles in the same room together?) would have gladly listened to the album at a greasy hamburger joint in Queens.
Musically, the 10-track Soldier of Love doesn't stray too far from the classic Sade sound. Mournful lyrics that dive into the emotional cost of lost love as well as hope-driven introspection fuels much of the album's dramatic tone. And that voice? It's still there: haunting, calming, gorgeous all at once.
Still, nothing could have prepared those in attendance for a rare sighting of the reclusive Sade, who following the session, appeared with members of her backing band that have been with her since the beginning of her career. Dressed in an all black silk outfit, with her trademark crimson red lipstick and pulled-back hair, Sade was greeted enthusiastically by the usually jaded music industry tastemakers who stood in line just to take a picture with the singer who seemingly ages every twenty years.
"She's been signed to the label for 25 years now, so obviously she's an incredibly iconic artist," glowed Rob Stringer, Chairman of Columbia and Epic label Group, Sade's longtime label home. "We are just thrilled that she wants to make music again. She doesn't have to put records out every year to be relevant. She's earned that respect and credibility to where she can put records out whenever she wants."
To hear a straight-no-chaser record-man like Stringer make such a statement runs counter to the strike-while-it's-hot mindset of a music industry in which a much hyped pop star like Rihanna has released four albums in five years. But Sade, who has sold more than 50 million records worldwide, is known for taking long hiatuses between albums. Her last studio album, Lovers Rock, was released in 2000. So why the long break this time? "She's been busy raising her daughter," said Sade's longtime manager Roger Davis. When asked about the prospect of a tour, he laughed and said, "We can only hope. We have to get the record out first."
And what does the lady herself have to say about all the outpouring of support? "I'm just happy that everyone came out," Sade told VIBE in a whispered British tone. "Thank you."
Highlights on Soldier of Love include:
❦"The Moon and The Sky"
A seductive Latin groove accented by Spanish guitars is paced by an assertive rim shot. "Why didn't you come get me one last time...we could have had the moon and the sky," Sade sings. Intensely sexy.
❦"Soldier of Love"
The official first single and album title track has been a curve pitch for longtime Sade fans. The harder edged Portishead-style production and winking western-standoff feel of the track (complete with rumbling military snares) takes a minute to get used to. But its relentless groove and Sade's sincere vocal performance makes it more than believable.
Sade at her most whimsical. "For you, he's the best he can be...daddy loves you," she says on the reggae-tinged track.
❦"Bring Me Home"
One of the tracks that will surely get play from club DJ's who worship at the alter of early '90s, digging-in-the-crates hip hop. With it's thumping bassline, this standout cut is easily the fastest paced song on Soldier of Love. There's ominous talk of tears. But this dramatic line says it all: "I've cried for the lives I've lost..." Wow.
Ranks among Sade's most heavy vocal and lyrical performances of all-time. A Fender Rhodes keyboard can be heard. So can the pain of a romance gone terribly wrong. "I wish I could wash you off my skin." There's no room for ambiguity here.
❦"The Safest Place"
Sade finds comfort in another's arms. Lush harmonies. Hope closes out the album.--Keith Murphy