Album review: Sade, "Soldier of Love"
By Chris Richards
Absence makes the heart grow . . . what is it again? Ruminative? Bereft? So it seems from Sade's new album "Soldier of Love" - the reclusive singer's first public moment since touring behind her 2000 album "Lovers Rock."
If 25 years of sublime, quiet-storming R&B hits have taught us anything, it's that Helen Folasade Adu might fall crazy in love, but she's also lucid in heartbreak. And while the intensely private singer remains tight-lipped about how she spent nearly a decade away from the spotlight (reports say she's living with her daughter, her partner and his son in rural England), the band that bears her name has returned with its most spare and haunting album yet - one where Sade's grief is harrowing, elegant and undeniably magnetic.
Which means a resurgent Sade should certainly appeal to anyone whose eardrums feel frazzled after nine seasons of "American Idol." In Simon Cowell's world, we've come to equate vocal prowess with florid acrobatics, making Sade's cool alto sound nobler than ever. She doesn't bother with rocket-ship falsettos or vocal loop-de-loops attempted by so many of today's pop singers. Most admirably, she remains immune to influence from the digital-age culture writ large.
(Moments worth savoring, after the jump.)
She's plaintive and pining as the album opens with "The Moon and the Sky," her own vocal harmonies following her like a sad shadow. "You had the keys to the car. You had every star, every one of them twinkling," she sings, soberly blending the mundane and the cosmic.
The song dovetails into the album's superb title track, where distorted guitars bend into strange and sudden torques while battlefield snare drums rat-a-tat-tat. Sade summons the evocative powers of Björk, but without the otherworldliness. That's because her inner world is far more intriguing. She sets loose a diary of confessions that would feel histrionic were they to escape from another singer's lungs: "I'm at the borderline of my faith, I'm in the hinterland of my devotion / I'm in the frontline of this battle of mine, but I'm still alive."
The album's most spartan ballad, "Morning Bird," opens with the simplest accusation: "How could you?" Singing along to just a few piano chords and a shivering tambourine, she finds new ways to describe the all-consuming powers of love and betrayal. "You are the blood of me," she mourns. "The harvest of my dreams / There's no way I can find peace, and the silence won't cease."
She's right. Those are just the album's first three songs, with plenty of paralyzing pauses and who knows how many words unsung to come. From the gentle swing of "Be That Easy" to the skeletal trip-hop of "Bring Me Home" to the muted funk of "Skin" (a song where Sade beautifully equates the loss of a lover to exfoliation), these songs posit her voice as something both patient and powerful, as if the rhythms are merely chasing after her.
Will it be enough to tide us over? With 10 years since her last album and an eight-year break before that, we probably shouldn't expect to hear from Sade for another decade. That's okay. For a singer who speaks volumes with her silences, Sade's selfishness feels like a gift.
Recommended tracks: "Soldier of Love," "Morning Bird," "Be That Easy"
February 9, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
Categories: Album reviews | Tags: Sade
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