When you look back at the 1980’s you will find lots of different yet distinctive styles of music from big hairband rock, to synthpop to Nu romantic pop. It was a decade of experimentation of styles, fashion and culture.
So, where Sade fit into the deluge of approaches to music in the 80’s always intrigues because they simply cannot be pigeon holed into the categories most music in the 80’s is able to be.
Sade were named after lead singer Sade Adu and are commonly thought of as a solo act give the iconic nature of Sade’s voice and look. They are very much a band and have been together from 1982 and remain an active band in the music industry.
“Diamond Life” is the debut album released in 1983 and in my look back at albums from the 1980’s I was keen to give a listen to a group whose music I am familiar with but cannot say that I have listened to an entire album and digested it fully.
But digest I have, and I have enjoyed playing this album so much that it has delayed my review as I didn’t want to stop exploring the songs as some have become absolute favourites.
The first two tracks were the big singles off the album, and I know them well as would most music listeners I would suspect.
Things kick off with “Smooth Operator”. ‘Smooth’ being the relevant word as this blend of jazzy soulful silky sexiness is just stunningly brilliant. Adu sounds so perfect on this song I wish for her to take me aside and sing it to me. Her sultry voice is transportive and its elegance is only matched by the tight and clean instrumental.
A key component to this song is the spoken word introduction from Sade which is cut out by many radio stations and whilst it doesn’t make the song bad it just takes away from an extra bit of beautiful speech from the stunning Sade Adu.
If I had thought that the opening track was ‘smooth’ then the next song is just a thing of pure sophistication.
“Your Love Is King” is led by a saxophone solo at the beginning with a quite simple instrumentation in the background flowing through the rest of the track with Adu vocally giving the track such soul in that you really believe what she is saying and sounds so very graceful.
This piece of smooth Jazz and soul is a joy on my ears, and I love this song.
“Hang On To Your Love” from a instrumentational point of view sounds quite raw and there are certainly no bells or whistles on this. It’s quite a basic instrumental and a little skeletal with Adu stealing the show again with her ability to take the melody and own it. The lack of backing vocals is an interesting element to me as the song is totally uncluttered and whilst at 05:53m it maybe is a little long with the same drum and bassline it’s still a song I’ve taken away due to just how catchy the hook is.
“Frankie’s First Affair” again begins with a saxophone and dives into the smoothness of the soulful Jazz that it wants to create.
Lyrically this sees Sade talk to her friend Frankie who has been cheated on by her lover. Sade is trying to point out that it is Frankie who has been the queen of cheating for a long time with her constant infidelities and now the tables have turned, and it is Frankie who has now been cheated on.
I say that her ‘friend’ is Frankie, but it does seem a bit ‘I Told You So’ which does make me think that perhaps Adu is one of those women whose men have slept with Frankie previously and she is just putting the boot in.
It’s an interesting track with much to interpret.
“When Am I Going To Make A Living” is the first politically motivated track we come across with Adu giving her observations about society at the time and how people are hungry but they won’t give in.
The track is a light number and lacks any real punch in its production or lyrical delivery to pack a punch and to be talking about societal issues of the day require a little more context and potential solution (or reasons why solution cannot be found) to make this song any more than just a throwaway album track.
Possibly my favourite on the album can be found at track 6 with “Cherry Pie”.
This is a funky soulful cacophony which retains the smoother soulful elements, but the bass line just adds a more funk dimension. It’s a song which I would love to see played live as I think it could be lifted even more. It needs a little more noise on the drums to make it a sure-fire funky disco jam but its elegance is again allowed to shine through the superb understate vocal from Adu yet again.
“Sally” is a slow Soul/Jazz number. It’s a tad dramatic but lyrically quite clever although I have had to research what it was all about as they are not talking about an actual person called Sally but the Salvation Army in which ‘sally’ is a term used to describe them.
Adu sings this song superbly and she sounds so comfortable on a track such as this it is just a dreamy listen.
The penultimate track is “I Will Be Your Friend”. This track feels a lot fuller than most on here and not as skeletal as some of the other instrumentals on most of the other tracks. That’s not to say it’s a particularly intricate and complicated instrumental because it is still quite straight down the line with Adu given the task again to use all facets of her vocal to drive the track forward.
It’s not the strongest song in this collection and the theme of being there for someone in friendship is not really explored in any major way.
The final track on the “Diamond Life” is a cover of “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas. If you haven’t heard the original, then you will know the major sample from that track by Drake on his song “Hotline Bling”.
This cover is nothing in comparison to the original but it’s always nice to hear Sade sing anything although I am not sure the arrangement suits her vocal prowess.
As debuts go this was a stunning way to begin a career and Sade really announced themselves to the world with a bang despite the music not being hard hitting.
But it is all deliberately thought out and paced correctly. Sure, there are a couple of tracks which fade into the background but when you have a world class singer like Sade Adu and songs that have melodies of pure gold then it just is never going to fail.
I loved listening to this album, and I recommend anyone giving it a go. It’s soulful, smooth, sexy and exquisitely executed.
(Above: Sade at 60 years old)