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Lover/Fighter

March 18, 2010
by

It’s been 10 years since her last opus, Lovers Rock, and Sade is back. Look at the horse that she rode in on. It’s a serious fucking horse. That horse knocks a hoof around, and creates lightning strikes. It nods it’s head and the ocean swells, waves crash.

This is certainly not the first time that Sade has rode her horse into town while some artful drapery gets blown around by wind machines.

But this time Sade is riding a war horse and she’s put on her one-piece, sequined, ass-kicking, heart-stealing battle armor. Complete with Wonder Woman glitter laso. You can’t win. Might as well surrender.

In some circles, Sade gets a rap for being the soundtrack to soft-core by candlelight as seen through a heavily vaselined lense. Or worse, as background music for a dentist visit.  I can attribute some of this attitude to the silky smooth production that marks pretty much every Sade album but I think there’s a little more to it than that.  I feel there is a fear of sensuality (which is also why I think I’ve yet to encounter a truly amazing Prince cover from an indie/rock band). See, for example, Beachwood Sparks’ cover of “By Your Side”. The band amps up the patchouli quotient and pretty much kills any of the original song’s unabashed sensuality.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like this cover. The sentiment is still there, and I’ll always have a soft spot for scruffy dudes trying their damndest to be Graham Parsons. But geeze guys, stop clenching those butt cheeks, and let it all hang out a little bit. Don’t fear the silk.

But back to Soldier of Love. Sade has always been more than a siren to soundtrack crawling around on bearskin rugs, or “what Mom puts on when she does the laundry”. She’s had more than her fair share of songs for the workingman, the long-suffering mothers, and the lost child. On this album, she takes on the lover/fighter role head first. And sure, you can have both. The tradition of the Lover/Fighter in pop music is paved with A-listers. Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Loretta Lynn, Prince, Exene Cervenka and Jon Doe. Just to name a few.  The title track and lead single sets the tone in no uncertain terms. A single trumpet sounds and a staccato snare march rolls in before Sade strides in singing, “I’ve lost the use of my heart/ But I’m still alive.”  Leaving me to wonder what happened in the 10 years between the closing track of Lovers Rock, “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through”.  No matter, Sade asserts “I’m a soldier of love/ all the days of my life. I am lost but I don’t doubt/ So I ride/I’ve a will to survive”. I believe her.

It thrills me to see Sade be herself while continuing to let current music influence her own. She could easily make album after album of “Smooth Operator” (and I’d be fine with that) but there are always little flourishes of “what the damn kids are listening to these days” in her tunes. A little hip-hop.  Bits of Massive Attack. I even get a little Beyonce in the way she is phrasing some her lyrics. “Skin” would probably sound pretty great with the sub-woofers turned to 11.

There are a few minor rough patches, “Morning Bird” meanders a bit too much for me. Whenever it comes on, I find myself meandering off to the fridge for some hummus and pretzles.  “In Another Time” starts of with a promising swagger but leans a little too hard on an electric keyboard.

If you’re still “Pshhhhh”-ing at the thought of Sade. Listen to “Be That Easy” but imagine Neko Case singing it. Or St. Vincent (ugh), or whatever chanteuse of the moment you are digging. You might be surprised that the queen of the “Quiet Storm” has a pretty sharp sword.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 5:17 pm

    Methinks thou tries too hard in getting us to dig Sade if we don’t dig Sade. Don’t get me wrong, I like her just fine & recognize her talent – even if, sadly “Ordinary Love” was ruined by the doin’-it scene in that terrible Robert Redford/Demi Moore/Woody Harrison film.

    St. Vincent is a “chanteuse of the moment”? Really?

  2. March 18, 2010 5:29 pm

    Why wouldn’t she be? She has a fairly successful album, and now David Byrne has taken to working with her. Is it “chanteuse” or “the moment” that’s buggin’ you?

    It could be that I’m mostly out of touch with “the moment” besides the stuff I dig. So maybe I left out someone more apropos. For the most part, I’m a grumpy curmudgeon who hates most of the crap shoved off on the public and chose to left my grumping about stuff I really don’t care for because it’s a long and boring list.

  3. March 18, 2010 5:56 pm

    I think p0plife is not so much trying to preach the gospel of Sade – though that would not be an entirely bad thing – but drawing attention to what is often overlooked about – Sade is a skilled musician who hasn’t had one misstep. Seriously, name other artists who have had the careful attention to their artistry rather than churning out mediocre releases with one or two “hits”.

    @Spoon – This was totally incredible. What a wonderful homecoming for Nigeria’s answer to Seal and I am longing for these two to collaborate, though I think that level of carefully controlled awesome could tear a hole in the space time fabric.

  4. March 18, 2010 9:16 pm

    @poplife
    I think it was “the moment” that got on my tits only in the tiniest way, but you’re right in what you say. And I need to remember “chanteuse” is not a pejorative. My bad, and I’m sorry for that.

    “For the most part, I’m a grumpy curmudgeon who hates most of the crap shoved off on the public and chose to left my grumping about stuff I really don’t care for because it’s a long and boring list.”

    Ha! This gave me a laugh. Curmudgeons FTW! Get off my lawn!

    @snarkysmachine

    “Seriously, name other artists who have had the careful attention to their artistry rather than churning out mediocre releases with one or two ‘hits’.”
    I can’t, because A. it’s rare, and B. I am not an awesomely proficient reviewer of music and would probably just show my ass were I to attempt an example. I do know that I am always sad when an artist I adore comes out with a “hit” album. Think Beyonce’s “B’Day” (yay most tracks!) vs. the latest effort (not so much!).

    Great. Now you all think I’m silly.

    Sade seems like a phenomenal artist. Why have so many done the “bearskin rug writhing” thing with these songs? Is that srsly – as you allude to poplife – the only way Americans know how to deal with overt and lush sensuality? I am asking these things because I honestly do not know! More exclamation marks! Thank you for this article! I will give her newest album a listen!

  5. March 18, 2010 11:49 pm

    I have one of her “best of” albums. My absolute favorite is “No Ordinary Love”. It gives me goosebumps.

  6. (D) Wilkes, Antarctica permalink
    March 19, 2010 1:46 am

    I’ve always equated Sade to hallucinogenics. No, she doesn’t make me see Jesus in the Saco. It’s all about the introduction. If you’re with one or two good friends on a cold New England night who are willing to light some candles, “experience” peppermint tea and as you said, “let the silk in,” you’ll accept the ride. Conversely, if you’re hanging out with idiot dealers who take you into the woods, feed you a couple tabs and then ask, “Hey, you feel weird yet?” every 5 minutes you’ll probably somehow wind up bleeding from your elbows. Point; attempt to relate this to: people who can only hear ‘Somebody Already Broke My Heart’ as the soundtrack to their gingivitis ravaged gum restoration. (As you mentioned it’s been approved by dentists everywhere!) How can you “let the silk in” if you’re drooling on a hygienist who’s stitching tissue grafts into your mouth?
    Obviously, sound and cell memory; not new. But for me, Sade epitomizes the concept. The first time seems to count in a big way. I think she may be the opposite of musical acquired taste. I would actually like to hear from someone who had the balls (can I say balls?) to find love in Sade after being a life-long “Please hold,” listener.

    Sorry Snarky. Got lost on the internet again. Landed here. Typed egregiously. Allusion to, scary woods via classic suburban-teen, forced intoxication = not all that classy. Meh.

    Anyhow, really enjoying some of these brilliant articles!

  7. March 19, 2010 8:10 am

    I do know that I am always sad when an artist I adore comes out with a “hit” album.

    @Kelly, I tend to be happy for them. If they get a hit, they may stay in the business and keep making music I like. I don’t mind if other people find out about my faves, and I’ll take the risk that they change their trajectory from what it was when I encountered them.

  8. March 20, 2010 10:09 am

    St. Vincent is totally an It singer right now, in the same vein as Neko Case, in that Pitchfork/Entertainment Weekly way. I disagree with Poplife in that I love St. Vincent’s first album (not feeling the new one everyone is loving though), and I’m guess by the “ugh” that she didn’t, but I still think she used her appropriately a indie pop reference!

  9. March 20, 2010 10:12 am

    I’ve been editing all these interviews for a music site in anticipation of SXSW and one of the frequently asked questions is “what’s your musical guilty pleasure?” and SO MANY people say Sade, and I get annoyed because there is nothing guilty about that, people need to own and embrace and revel in the overt sensuality! Thanks for this piece, Spoon.

  10. badhedgehog permalink
    March 20, 2010 10:48 am

    Sade gets accused of being yuppie background music, tied in with a bunch of other images ‘n’ tropes of the mid 80s UK yuppie thing: London wine bars, stripped pine furniture, suits, dinner parties. It seems to be quite a strong association. On the other hand, people who* get Sade tend to** see her as on of the great artists who always come out with a great album so it doesn’t matter that you wait 10 years for them to make one (see also, Kate Bush).

    I really like your illustration, by the way.

    *”who?” it says in red in the margin
    ** “what is this ‘tends to’? Too vague. Give examples.” it says.

  11. March 20, 2010 11:31 am

    I’ve been editing all these interviews for a music site in anticipation of SXSW and one of the frequently asked questions is “what’s your musical guilty pleasure?” and SO MANY people say Sade, and I get annoyed because there is nothing guilty about that, people need to own and embrace and revel in the overt sensuality!

    TOP FREQUENTLY CITED GUILTY PLEASURE ARTISTS:
    1. Sade
    2. Seal
    3. Tom Jones

    It’s so puritan to frame things as guilty pleasures as though guilt were a necessary component of pleasure, which in reality the phrase is an oxymoron.

  12. March 20, 2010 1:13 pm

    Good points re: “guilty pleasure” you two. And count me Yes re: Mr. Jones, whom I’ve never felt guilty about. Turning up then belting “Thunderball” is one of my all-time mood enhancers.

  13. March 20, 2010 1:56 pm

    Oh man yes… see also: Fleetwood Mac and ABBA.

    Those ones REALLY piss me off too. (but perhaps that’s an article for another time…) As if Lindsay Buckingham isn’t one of the most accomplished and wonderful guitar players/songwriters. As if ABBA didn’t write some of the most bitersweet pop ever. Look, I know that Christine McVie can be a polarizing figure (even amongst FeeMac fans).

    Also, F all these people who wear FeeMac and ABBA shirts ironicaly and drive up the prices on ebay for me. Thanks.

  14. March 20, 2010 2:30 pm

    Sting gave a great endorsement when he was doing the music for the Emperor’s New Groove. He felt he was too old to sing Kuzco’s theme song, and needed someone with a younger sound. So naturally the honor fell to…

    Tom Jones.

    IMO, “guilty pleasure” shouldn’t be applied to artists with talent who happen to be out of style or critical favor. Bananarama is a guilty pleasure; Sade is not.

  15. March 20, 2010 2:37 pm

    “Guilty Pleasure” kept ABBA out of the rock and roll hall of fame until now. FUCKING FINALLY. In addition Babs seems to get this, as she named her CD “Guilty Pleases”. woot.

  16. March 20, 2010 4:11 pm

    LOL @ Babs! “Cuz we got nothin’ to be guil-teee ovvvvv”

    ABBA wrote songs that referenced Dallas and dividing up your records after you break up. They deserve a statue somewhere.

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