Think back to when you first got hooked on that special someone. He was crossing the street a couple blocks ahead, and you saw him but he didn’t see you. Everything seemed to move in slow motion until a bus splashed you with a puddle of mud, bringing you back to reality. Then, when you started hooking up regularly with you-know-who, think of how the next morning’s sunshine made you vow never to take for granted that new and wonderful blessing. And finally, when she let you off the hook for the very last time, leaving you at the entryway door in the rain without a key or an umbrella, consider the regret and nostalgia that has continued to haunt you ever since. What do all of these situations have in common?
It doesn’t matter whether Valentine’s Day brings you happiness, sadness, or eager anticipation: the music of Sade is appropriate in every imaginable light. It is truly romantic and will fuel your current emotions, be they positive or negative. The band’s style, a genre in itself, has flourished over the last 20 years, failing to compromise with changing times yet remaining a fixture in contemporary music.
The band broke an eight-year silence in 2000 with Lovers Rock, which reignites its original flame and adds significant logs to the fire. The music is just as powerful and with nearly a decade of pondering, the lyrics are strikingly deeper and much more personal.
Even the story of how the band began is romantic. Helen Folasade Adu, lead vocalist and songwriter, was studying fashion in London when several friends asked her to sing in their up-and-coming Latin fusion band, then known as Pride. Guitarist and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, along with bassist Paul Spencer Denman and keyboardist Andrew Hale, were about to embark on a tremendous musical journey, thanks to their new voice. Their single “Your Love Is King” was an instant top-10 hit in 1984, and the album it came from, Diamond Life, resonated equally with audiences. Three more classic albums — Promise, Stronger than Pride and Love Deluxe — followed over the next 10 years.
Lovers Rock begins with the catchy “By Your Side” and continues in the fashion of slightly similar candlelit-dinner-material ballads for the next several tracks. Some of the songs cover less-than-warm feelings and even the “happy” numbers possess a certain melancholy. Even so, the first half of the album is unquestionably romantic: neat drums covered by the one and only soothing whispers of Adu, a somewhat overbearing bass presence and the unassuming, humble guitar and piano snippets of Matthewman and Hale.
After the upbeat “All About Our Love,” the album falls into a medley of deeply personal tracks, including “Slave Song” and “Immigrant,” the latter inspired by the life of Sade’s Nigerian-born father. This segment seriously detracts from the building mood, but is merely a ripple in the flow towards the climactic “Lovers Rock,” in which Adu bellows, “I am in the wilderness, you are in the music, in the man’s car next to me.”
The album has other lows. In addition to the trenches of tracks six through nine, the absence of Matthewman’s saxophone, which was just as powerful as Adu’s voice on some of their earlier hits, is deeply felt and much of the classic jazz vibe that made them famous is lost.
Nevertheless, this year Sade is my valentine.