Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stronger Than Promise: Examining Sade

Who isn't familiar with the international soul of Sade? Gliding into the collective ears of audiophiles with the classic "Smooth Operator" from their debut album Diamond Life
(1984), Sade has maintained a consistent level of sensuality, emotion, and musicality.

The mingling of detached vocals with a smattering of world music and soul styling has made the name Sade synonymous with glamor. Their music also tends to lean toward social commentating. Four individuals make up the Sade experience: Sade Adu on vocals, Andrew Hale on keyboards, Stuart Matthewman on saxophone and guitar, and Paul S. Denman on bass guitar. This particular post is about two albums: Promise (1985) and Stronger Than Pride (1988). Both of these records would spin off the consummate singles that are staples on Quiet Storm, A/C, and "muzak" playlists everywhere, both have a similar thematic feel, yet they elicit different feelings in fans and commentators alike.

Promise (1985)
Home to the "condition of the heart" archetype "The Sweetest Taboo," Promise built on the world-jazz mooring of its predecessor Diamond Life. Unlike the loose, progressive lipstick jams of that record, Promise was slightly overwrought.  The group remained professionally apt in their skills, but the songs lingered too long with music that wasn't as complex as it wished it was.

An example would be "Maureen." It began well before it puddled into indulgence with bloated brass and an arrangement that aimed high and landed low. Sade herself seemed disinterested, more than her usual distance if possible to be fair. All isn't lost however in the lush rush of the Promise singles and the beautiful conflict of "You're Not the Man." It has to be said that a slew of great singles and two album cuts does not a great record make. If anything, the world must have been charmed enough to overlook the flat sounds and slightly recycled lyrical content that shot for more, but stopped at "okay."

Stronger Than Pride
Opening with the delicate stillness of the title track, Stronger Than Pride was the real follow-up to their assured debut. Offering up another run of hit singles and sales, the record drew up complaints interestingly. The criticism was set on the fact that Sade,  known for their live instrumentation, "dared" to use programmed drums on several tracks. Despite this ridiculous claim, Stronger Than Pride is a tighter, focused set of songs.

The sweet and salty desire of "Paradise" and the rending story teller of "Clean Heart" staged how this record had a free form position, but with forward momentum missing on Promise. This momentum is heard on "Turn My Back," a sly song that utilized the "dreaded" drum programming. If anything, the live and electronic elements made a subtle amalgam of sound.

Stronger Than Pride succeeded where Promise didn't by not equating long, jazz tinted bores with actual innovation and emotion. Stronger Than Pride stepped (slightly) out of Sade's comfort zone and kept enough of their own classic approach to have dual appeal.

"Nothing Can Come Between Us" from Stronger Than Pride
Directed By: Sophie Muller

Both of these records have their place and were resounding successes commercially, even if one unfortunately received larger critical praise than the other. Sade continued to deliver more evocative music on the following records Love Deluxe (1992) and Lovers Rock (2000). Hopefully, we'll be hearing from Sade sooner than later.-QH


S. Flemming said...

Can't say that I agree, but you make your case well. Makes me want to go back and play them.

Anonymous said...

I love how you examined the 2 Sade classics. I love everything Sade has released; can't say I've intricately picked it apart ever. I guess I'm one of those who wait so long for a Sade release I'll take anything she brings.

I love your musical ear and how you're able to detach yourself from the greats and give an unbiased opinion.