Like most people, I’m quick to say, “I love Sade!”
Thing is, I’ve never thought of the music this band creates as romantic. They’re beautiful creations, yes. But what’s appealed to me is the core of melancholy that informs the music. Within the beauty you’re forced to wrestle with many emotions: Loss. Regret. Connections missed. The passage of time. Evolving (or devolving) relationships. The struggle to hold onto something that’s slipping out of your fingers despite your most fervent efforts. Think of songs like “Is It A Crime,” “You’re Not The Man.” Even the groove-heavy “No Ordinary Love”, while a killer track, resonates with just enough “see, I told you so” that it sounds like a level of. . .resignation?
Years ago, I made the mistake of listening to Sade right after a break up. Wrong move. I was crying all over the place. Definitely had to turn that off. And that’s just it: The band’s songs ultimately remind you of the fragility of relationships, and why it’s important to value them. Because the hurt is always on the other side. It’s the “what we have is strong and tender” thing from “Nothing Can Come Between Us.”
But, listening to Soldier of Love is that wonderful feeling of settling back into a favorite chair or pulling on a favorite sweater. Warmth. Familiarity. Comfort. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but that’s not what we expect from Ms. Adu. She knows her zone, stays in her lane and it doesn’t get tired. Soldier of Love retains Sade’s signature reticence, introspection and melancholy. Melodic and groovy, we are happily reintroduced to a singing voice that, in its own way, has that same ‘it’ quality that rappers like Biggie, Rakim or Jay-Z have. In all cases, there’s something in these voices that makes you want to listen and hear more.
Certainly, this is yet another Sade album that can stay on repeat. The title song, also the first single, presents her as resilient, hopeful, but realistic. Measured, even. One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Babyfather,” probably the most happy, upbeat song on the album. There’s a sweetness to it that really speaks to the bond between fathers and daughters. “Skin” deals with the aftermath of a relationship that’s just ended.
Or there’s “The Safest Place”, in which she talks about coming to love after many trials and bad relationships. She assures her partner:
My heart’s been to a lonely warrior
Who’s been to war
So you can be sure
Your love’s in a sacred place
What’s most progressive about Sade is her point of view and the fact it gets mainstream airing. Looking back, she reminds me of Carleen Anderson and her brilliant, much-underrated 1994 album, True Spirit. Like Sade, she was someone who was older, wiser and a bit more battle-scarred than the most of the pop singers usually heard ad nauseum on commercial radio. What both of their work shows is the realization that, as you get older, relationships become more precious. There’s no guarantee that you’ll meet someone new next weekend at the club. And while both are beautiful women, Unlike Beyonce on “Irreplaceable,” these women aren’t sassy and brash enough to believe they “can have another man in a minute”. They both—and Sade is particularly good at this—focus on the small moments in a relationship. The vulnerability is refreshing.
A thought: Wasn’t Sade “grown and sexy” way before that term was in vogue?
My advice: Enjoy this album and catch her on tour if you can. Knowing Sade, it might be another decade before she decides to do this again. In the meantime, enjoy "Babyfather" below.