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Albums Reviews


Soldier of Love
[Three and a half stars]

Mar 10, 2010

Sade has a lot in common with AC/DC. Both have spent long and glorious careers refining their signature sound, to the point where it’s basically one song with different titles. They wait years between records, then deliver the same album they made last time ”“ which means it’s unimpeachably excellent. Neither gets caught doing anything stupid like trying a new hairstyle or making a Balearic dubstep record. They stick to their strengths. And they both sing about the tender emotions, from Sade’s ”˜Your Love Is King’ to AC/DC’s ”˜Let Me Put My Love Into You.’

Soldier of Love is the latest chapter in Sade Adu’s incredible run as a mystery woman. Nobody knows where the hell she vanishes to between hits ”“ maybe she has her own private island or something? But every time she returns, she brings another flawless collection of glossy Anglo-soul torch songs. She sings about the torments of love, yet never reveals a thing about her private life or personality. When she first appeared in 1985 with the ”˜Smooth Operator’ video, she sang with tears streaming down her regal cheekbones. But she never loses her cool. Compared to Sade, all other singers seem like hopeless little prissy drama queens.

Soldier is the first Sade album since Lovers Rock 10 years ago, which was her first since Love Deluxe eight years before that. Like those albums, Soldier is sumptuously melancholy, exquisitely beautiful R&B, perfect for crying on a very expensive sofa. She’s been making hit records longer than anyone in the xx has been alive, yet she works in the same style: the hushed, voluptuous tones of heartbreak, reduced to a sexy-librarian whisper, with a very British sense of reserve.

The amazing title track is a ballad of utter emotional devastation, biting a hook from Kool Moe Dee’s 1988 rap hit ”˜Wild Wild West.’ The martial hip-hop beat stutters as Sade sings, “I’m at the borderline of my faith/I’m at the hinterland of my devotion.” Her voice, as slinky and smoky as ever, has that instantly recognisable ache. The rhythms build the tension but never boil over, keeping you hanging on for a climax that never comes. It’s classic Sade: a cool and collected song about falling apart.

Soldier sustains the mellow vibe for the whole album, with reggae-inflected melodies to suit the slow-motion lilt of ”˜Morning Bird,’ ”˜Bring Me Home’ and ”˜Skin.’ Part of her mystery is that she’s kept the same lineup of musicians together for more than 25 years; nobody seems to know or care who they are, but Sade-the-band has the same light touch as Sade-the-singer, ensuring that each groove flows imperceptibly into the next. The only jarring moment is ”˜Babyfather,’ which has an abrasive lyric about a broken family and an unusually cheery melody. Not to mention a hilariously English title.

It’s hard to believe Sade is 51 ”“ but then, she never seemed young. Even on her classic debut, Diamond Life, she played the role of the worldly, jaded dame who’d been burned too many times to care about sensitive hearts. Once her songs hit the radio, they never leave ”“ you still can’t wait in line at the drugstore without hearing ”˜The Sweetest Taboo’ or ”˜Kiss of Life.’ Beloved by all, yet known to nobody, Sade just lets her mystique grow. Now that’s a smooth operator.

Key Tracks: ”˜Soldier of Love,’ ”˜Morning Bird’

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