Sade Lovers Rock
All lyrics by Sade Adu
Produced, performed and arranged by Sade
Co-produced by Mike Pela
The Band: Sade Adu, Vocals; Andrew Hale, Keyboards; Stuart Matthewman, Guitars, Woodwinds, Programming; Paul Denman, bass.
2000 Sony Music
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Strangely Sad Sade...
It's been eight long ones since Helen Folasade Adu had a new cd languorously slithering up the charts, but like Steely Dan and a host of other once-popular acts, she has come out of recording retirement to lay a new set on us -- the provocatively-named Lovers Rock.
Lovers Rock... mmmmm... at first blush, one assumes this could be a great euphemism for Sade's favourite indoor sport -- doing the horizontal mambo -- and that's not a bad assumption, given her last effort was called Love Deluxe, and featured sexy hits such as No Ordinary Love, Like A Tattoo, and Cherish The Day.
Alas, it's not to be. In Lovers Rock Sade is much less interested in throwing matches on the gasoline-soaked landscape of new love than she is in rummaging through the ashes of early love and offering a more mature analysis of what can happen and what it may all mean.
It's a natural progression, at least. And although she still looks like the young Sade on the outside, it's an older, apparently wiser, somewhat sadder, certainly smarter Sade in this introspective jazz-funk outing.
The songs offer a smorgasbord of reflective lyric, revealing Sade in a number of moods: protective, determined, depressed, desperate, idealistic, socially outraged, maternal, hatefully vindictive, understanding and hopeful. Quite the range from the exotic beauty who once made our blood run hot and cold with her obsessive, repetitious songs about love and being lovestruck.
Musically, the long-standing Sade backup band -- really, the only one she's ever had -- cooks at a reduced temperature for most of this collection. Their usual technique is to lay down a funk groove against which Sade breathes/sings/speaks her personal, confessional lyrics, and Lovers Rock is no exception. The basic trio of keyboarder Andrew Hale, axeman Stuart Matthewman (he also plays woodwinds), and bassist Paul Denman team up this time with hired gun percussionist Leroy Osborne Bossche. Together, they offer the same tasty, understated backdrop against which Sade's story poems can grow and unfold. Bossche's work is particularly well done, with the beat often foregrounded with her voice. Hale and Matthewman are superb accompaniment to Sade, their extended riffing allowing her to once again sing her almost-enigmatic one-liners into a variety of rhythms over the long stretches of melody underneath.
An Album Of Funk Dirges
Fans have already discovered this is basically a melancholy offering from the Queen of Cool, and given her age and experience, it's probably quite irrational to have expected her to write about the themes of her youth. Married, divorced, single mother of a young girl, Sade has lived through the often-expected results of the love-mad girl she once was. It's quite a leap from No Ordinary Love to Every Word, a Lovers Rock song of unique bitterness, as Sade writes a letter of accusation, disbelief, and finally rejection over an act of betrayal: "I saw a picture/ how could you be so careless/ how could you have done that to us ". Yes, a quantum leap of experience, but one based in the reality of relationships rather than the idealistic/romantic notions of No Ordinary Love.
As a mother, her maternal interest in things small and dependent is also present in this collection, most obviously with The Sweetest Gift, a lullaby about watching a child sleep in the moonlight. She's dedicated the songs to the Rainbow Trust Children Charity for kids with life-threatening or terminal disease. By Your Side also shows evidence of a maternal message.
Standout cuts include the aforementioned By Your Side, offering an infectious keyboard riff and understated rhythm section, Somebody Already Broke My Heart, an almost-reggae construct with tasty Hammond organ licks and a moaning synthesizer, and Lovers Rock, with its exquisite blend of percussion and bass, and Sade's enigmatic lyric: "I am in the wilderness/ you are in the music in the/ man's car next to me".
One could argue she hasn't completely given up on love, but is now more wary, more alert. All About Our Love is a look at the past and a hope for the future, and ironically she also seems to be aware of her earlier emphasis on the beginnings of relationships, as she suggests that whatever the problems may be, "we can get through it/ as if its just begun/ oh, it's just begun". A hopeful conceit, which is picked up and expanded in the cd's last song, It's Only Love That Gets You Through, an interesting song insofar as it seems she is writing about, and singing to herself sort of a self-help review and emotional pep talk in which she lists all the bad/tough/painful times in her life and then realizes that she's made it "to the other side", she "didn't come undone", and "didn't suffer in vain"... because love got her through.
Sade even offers two songs about racism: Immigrant and Slave Song. Immigrant is a tad ponderous, with a chorus that refrains: "He didn't know what it was to be black/ 'til they have him his change but didn't want to touch his hand". Yeah, that's heavy, Sade, but where was he? Buckingham Palace? Slave Song is better, almost a hymn as a prayer that cheekily requests: "I pray to the Almighty/ Let us not do as he has unto us..."
Musically, this album is the usual tasty treat we've come to associate with all Sade's albums. Given the smooth sophistication of the funk sound she flies within, her tremolo-less, flat as the savannah, slightly sibilant sound was the perfect dancehall/writer's desk accompaniment. Today, Sade's voice sounds slightly huskier, slightly less nimble, and she's unfortunately lost that very cute little Brit accent she used to lay on us in the 80s. The band is the same extraordinary group that has been with her since 1980. They're not as free-swinging on Lovers Rock as they have been in the past, but this album contains not one upbeat, uptempo, or uplifting song.
Sadly, it looks like the honeymoon is over. Time to wash the dirty diapers.
© Rick Ojo McGrath JAN/2001
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