The ’80s British trend towards mild jazz/Latin-inflected pop music (Carmel, Everything but the Girl) found its first globally successful proponent in Sade. A stunningly beautiful Anglo-Nigerian born in Africa but raised in England, Sade (Helen Folasade Adu) writes (the lyrics are hers alone, the music mostly co-written with Stuart Matthewman, the sax/guitar player in her trio) and performs mellifluous, thoughtful tunes with aplomb and jazz leanings that seem to derive from a wholly different era. Despite the music’s obvious stylization, Sade’s almost colorless voice exudes little personality; her strength is a cool timbre that conveys dispassionate wisdom.
Somehow avoiding both nostalgia and schmaltz, Diamond Life is an anomaly: nothing about it would turn off Andy Williams fans, but selfconsciousness legitimizes it to a rock audience. “Hang on to Your Love,” “Sally,” “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love Is King” are the standouts, evoking chic nightclub society of the ’60s. (In fact, the first of those tracks includes the very noticeable sound of glasses clinking.) The perfect soundtrack to your Laurence Harvey dreams, and a very alluring pop record.
Promise is slightly drier and less cozy, but the nine songs are every bit as good. Economical arrangements make each carefully placed rim shot and guitar twang count on such excellent songs as “Is It a Crime” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” (In England, a dual CD of the first two albums was released.)
On the other hand, weak material, pale singing and Sade’s effete production/arranging leave Stronger Than Pride well off the mark, a dignified but slack collection of adult love songs with little of the fashionable élan that invigorated her first two albums.