A jazzy, soulful, occasionally mournful, easy-like-Sunday-morning listen...
Ah, it’s funny. After it emerged that Sade was releasing a new album – the first in over eight years – nigh on everyone was a ‘big’ fan. Oh, how they ‘loved’ the group. Strange. If memory serves, by the time the singer/songwriter/producer and exquisite beauty that is Sade (and her somewhat anonymous bandmates Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Spencer Denman) had released their third album, most soul ‘eads claimed the group had gone the way of Level 42 and UB40 – slightly left of where they started from. They dismissed them as mainstream. A group who made music for wine bars. In Kensington.
While there is nothing like retrospect to muddy the memory, one constant remains: the music. And while the amount of people who claim to be bona fide Sade fans may have changed, the music has not. Despite Sade’s self-imposed retreat to Jamaica (and, in the climate of Spice Girls and Robbie Williams ubiquity, some would say a very wise retreat), ‘Lovers Rock’ is not the jazzy/dubby album the title suggests. Just like its predecessors (‘Diamond Life’, ‘Promise’, ‘Stronger Than Pride’ and ‘Love Deluxe’), ‘Lovers Rock’ is a jazzy, soulful, occasionally mournful, easy-like-Sunday-morning listen. The only thing that has changed is the enhanced subtlety of Sade’s vocals. She makes other instrumentally minded singers, like Nina Simone, sound like they’re in a hurry. Her delivery is so poignant that she makes you want to pull out (or, if you don’t own it, go out and buy) a Sarah Vaughan or Cassandra Wilson album and listen. On more than one occasion Sade sounds so vulnerable, you can hear the sobs of a distraught girlfriend; it’s hard to remember the last time you heard vocals delivered with such sincerity.
But that sincerity also manages to restrict the album. Unlike the group’s previous offerings, it’s hard to imagine most of the tracks faring well as singles. That’s because, album-wide, ‘Lovers Rock’ bubbles along on the same rhythm (which explains why The Neptunes’ remix of ‘By Your Side’ is such a standout). It’s also because the subject matter, in an age of Girl Power rhetoric and boy-b(l)and balladry is just too clever for British radio. ‘Immigrant’ is a pursed-lipped critique on how the subtleties of racism can quash the spirit, and ‘Slave Song’, with its opening verse relayed in a mixture of fact and fiction as it narrates the effect of surviving the middle passage, is a stunning effort. The title track, obviously inspired by Sade’s eight years in the West Indies, is a comely tribute to the power and beauty of the island’s greatest export: reggae.
‘Lovers Rock’ possesses an eye closing, deep inhaling, slow exhaling, sexy vibe, and its unhurried mid-to-slow pace will give you the horn – which means it’s too good for all those wine bars and too good for fair-weather listeners. But just right for lovers. Who want to rock. Sorry. Couldn’t resist a cliche.
‘Lovers Rock’ is released on November 13th. For more information, check out [url=]www.sadeonline.com.