Music for Grown-Ups: Young’uns, Take Note

The Sade quote David referred to on his Twitter account Tuesday (and to which Jordin Sparks shared on hers) includes these profound words: “I only make records when I feel I have something to say. I’m not interested in releasing music just for the sake of selling something. Sade is not a brand.” 

Not only are these words “the truth,” but I’m so excited musical newbies like David and Jordin have a musical role-model to look up to.  Especially since Sade is true to her word: her album, Soldier of Love, released this week, definitely has something to say, and it’s worth repeat listening.

I’ve been a fan of Sade Adu since her single “Paradise” was the summer jam in my teen years, but it was in my college years when she stirred my soul and mended a heartbreak I was nursing with her sultry album, Love Deluxe. With lyrics like “Too busy thinking / Love is a gun / I know the end before the story’s been told / It’s not that complicated / but you’re going to need a bulletproof soul” on the smooth jazzy “Bullet Proof Soul,” or “If you were mine / I wouldn’t want to go to Heaven” on the bass-heavy hit, “Cherish the Day,” I was getting a life lesson on the Art of War (aka love relationships).  Beyond the sexual battleground were consciousness-raising songs about the poor and the marginalized in the bluesy song, “Feel No Pain,” and the sad song, “Pearls,” about famine in Somalia: the ethereal and sparse refrain – “It hurts like brand new shoes” – to describe hunger just belies Sade’s powerful storytelling and gift for irony.  How do you help the privileged First World woman understand the pain of her Third World sister?  Bring up the pain of “brand new shoes.”  So many levels.

So, of course, once I hear Sade is coming out with a new album after a nine-year hiatus, I had my cash ready to plop down and purchase this baby, and it most certainly does not disappoint!

The word that definitely comes to mind when listening to Soldier of Love is organic.  Everything about it is understated with minimalist intrusions of over-processed instrumentations and an overabundance of the heavy blues-jazzy bass that has defined the Sade sound.  Her lyrics are once again about love (and I mean love with the battle scars to show for it, not some wish for fairy tales that our young pop teeny superstars sing about).  L. O. V. E. grown-up style.  As her single, “Soldier of Love,” attests: “I’ve lost the use of my heart / but I’m still alive.”  This is a “survivor’s tale of love,” and the themes hit you to the core.

The first track, “Moon and the Sky,” is vintage Sade with sultry vocals and a bluesy hook. Older and wiser but still employing the “use of her heart” to desire the impossible: “the moon and the sky.” Or, is it just that simple: in our every day life, something as simple as the “moon and the sky” are something to be had when night falls?  This smooth track is then followed by her sure-to-be-a-hit, the titular “Soldier of Love,” with its militaristic drumline driving the bass and giving off the only new-school remix sound.  It’s a savvy move on the part of her label to choose this song for the single release because it’s the only song that “updates” the Sade sound while remaining true to its smooth, bass-heavy roots.  

The rest are a showcase of some fine and contemplative ballads, like “Morning Bird,” “Long Hard Road,” and “The Safest Place.”  The reggae-styled “Babyfather” brings a mellow and even playful vibe, while “Be That Easy” and “In Another Time” take us back to the rope with 70s-style jazzy blues – not R&B blues, but The Blues straight, no chaser.  Just some really sweet hooks to be had all around.

My favorite tracks are the smooth and slightly uptempo songs like “Bring Me Home” and “Skin.”  On “Bring Me Home,” we hear a plaintive cry in the background.  This becomes a motif, with humming added as a hook, set to some hardcore lyrics:

The dawn holds the heaviness of the night / I’ve heard the restless sighs and lovers lies / I’ve seen the brook the beach and seen the devil’s eyes / So bring me home / I’ve cried for the lives I’ve lost / like a child in need of love / I’ve been so close but far away from God / My tears flow like a child’s in need of love / I’ve cried the tears so let the tide take me / I won’t fight / I’ve cried the tears

Whew! Can I get a witness?

Or what about “Skin,” another smooth cool track, with lyrics like: “Sure as it’s gonna play and play / like Michael back in the day / I’m gonna peel you away / Now as I begin to wash you off my skin / I’m gonna peel you away / Cause you’re not right within.”  This is a clear Michael Jackson shoutout (not surprising since this album was being worked on the summer he passed way), but is she referring to Michael’s music that’s “gonna play and play,” or is she specifically alluding to his “peeling away” of skin since he wasn’t “right within”?  Hmmm, I’m still listening and contemplating.

And that, to me, is what makes an album worthy.  With the right hooks and beat and aural soundscape, you can get lost on another plane. You can really listen.  Just listen (which is what I’ve been doing these past few days playing this album in the background when I’m eating or drinking a cup of tea or hot cocoa).  

While I hope David would never disappear from the scene like Sade has done (at least not as long as she has done), I do hope he gives this one a serious listen.  So many lessons of understated yet profound music, as well as an idea of how one can produce an album of mostly ballads and not be “boring” while doing so.  

I already have a Voice-o-Meter in mind when reviewing this album (i.e. which songs could The Voice cover brilliantly).  I would select: “Morning Bird,” “Long Hard Road” (I can already hear the licks and runs he could put on this baby), “Be That Easy,” “Bring Me Home,”  “In Another Time” (this would be sublime!), and “The Safest Place.” Since there are only 10 tracks on this album, that’s more than half the CD.  

In other words, Soldier of Love scores high on the Voice-o-Meter! 🙂

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Posted on February 11, 2010, in reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. HG- I’ve never commented here before but I am a huge fan of your blog. Being a big fan of both soul music and David I love your insights.
    I am also a huge Sade fan and I was tickled pink when I read David’s tweet about Sade Adu’s quote.
    I hope he takes a listen to her music as well because I just know he would love the nuance and emotion in her voice.
    My personal favorites from the album are Morning Bird and In Another Time.
    Actually it is a dream of mine to have David sing the Sade song The Sweetest Gift.

    And may I just add that I was listening to Works for Me, Somebody Out There and Bad Behavior today and I just have this feeling that David will be a brilliant songwriter 🙂 His lyrics and melodies have this wit and endearing truth to them.

  2. I’m a Sade fan but I only own her greatest hits CD. When “Smooth Operator” came out in the 80’s, I thought it was one of the best songs I’d ever heard. It sounded so different from everything else on the radio.

    I hope at some point that David gets the opportunity to become one of music’s innovators. He definitely has the potential.

  3. I was a big fan of Sade, back in the day! My favorite album of hers is Promise, although I loved Diamond Life too. I’ll have to give her latest a listen! Thanks for the review, HG!

  4. That “Best Behavior” preview of David’s mad mad talent has just elevated my anticipation level for his next CD. Thanks for the vid, Astrid!

    And thanks for your insights and compliments, Mbmonchi! Please post more often! 🙂

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