The best thing about Sade Adu is also the worst thing about Sade Adu: her near fanatical commitment to consistency. There’s no difference between vintage Sade and contemporary Sade. She’s the antithesis of the the snowfall cliché: with Sade you always know exactly what you’re going to get.
Soldier of Love is the first album in nearly a decade from Sade and only the sixth in 25 years. Flooding the market with material is not a crime Miss Adu can be accused of.
Sade is just someone who listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue a few times too many and came away with the impression, “Aha, that’s how you convey pain and anguish.” But she’s no unimaginative copycat. She likes to keep her music simple, sparse and unadorned with such trappings as guest superstars, cover tunes, or any acknowledgment of what’s hip, hot and happening in modern music. For better or worse, she continues to go her own way, releasing new records only when she feels she has something to say and an iconoclastic disdain for and refusal to acknowledge what’s hip, hot, and happening in music.
It’s that cool detachment that gives Sade whatever jazz cachet she has, but you couldn’t find a less likely “jazz” singer. It’s her lack of concern (or is it contempt?) for the prevailing trends of pop music that enables to keep their jazz pass.. Sade cares about as much as using Auto-Tune and other studio tricks as Dianne Reeves or Wynton Marsalis even if she has nothing else in common with real jazz artists.
Soldier of Love seems longer than it’s tidy 41 minutes. It might be because even on the mid tempo songs like the title track and “Babyfather” neither Sade Adu the frontwoman or Sade the band swing. You don’t buy a Sade album because you want to dance. You buy a Sade album because no matter how bad your day’s been, her’s has been worse. A lot worse.
The drums click like the heels of a Marine snapping to attention. You can hear the gentle pluck of Paul Denman’s bass and Stuart Matthewman gets a chance to dust off his saxophone, but as Sade Adu’s vocals have moved up as the centerpiece of the previous studio albums, Love Deluxe (1992) and Lovers Rock (2000), the band has receded into a state of anonymity. They don’t have much else to do but be supportive and back-up Sade, which they dutifully do.
So what’s she been doing for the last decade? Suffering mostly. Oh, how she suffers. She’s been in love. Out of love. She’s been hurt, stabbed in the back. Bruised, battered, betrayed. Sure she’s wealthy, gorgeous and talented, but her pain threshold is incredible.
Sade’s misery, torment and sad tales of woe permeate the lyric booklet.
“Put me on a plate with petals and a fire/and send me out to sea/Turn my angry sword against my heart/and set me free,” she croaks on “Bring Me Home.” Who’s the miserable bastard that keeps ripping out Sade’s heart and spitting in the hole? It gets even worse for her on “The Moon and the Sky, “You lay me down and left me for the lions/A long, long time ago/You left me there dying/But you’ll never let me go.”
Damn, this girl needs a hug!
When you take nearly ten years off between releases you get evaluated differently. The opinion of critics, good, bad or otherwise, mean nothing. If Sade squeezes out a little squeaky fart and it’s recorded, some fan will find it sheer genius. Soldier of Love is a little better than Lovers Rock which was really listless, but if you load up a multi-disc CD player and hit “shuffle” there isn’t a hell of a difference between Diamond Life and Solider. There’s a lot less piano and percussion and a lot more drippy strings and chilly programmed synth beats and beeps, but otherwise the songs remain the same.
I like Soldier of Love despite the fact it’s exactly the same as every other Sade album. It’s probably going to take repeated listening before I love it. Since I’ll be well into my sixties before Sade makes another album I’ll have plenty of time.