I’m writing about the most soulful, beautiful album I’ve heard this year. It just happens to have been recorded over thirty years ago.
Somehow it took me until 2016 to give Sade an honest chance. The fact that I instantly loved this album made me feel foolish; how long had I held off simply because I had some weird impression thanks to third-hand references in pop culture? I’m not even sure what I expected, but this soulful mixture of balearic groove and relaxed jazz wasn’t it.
I’m not writing today to attempt some new spin on a beloved artist that I’m only now getting to know. Instead I’m writing to share my most recent example of the serpentine nature of music discovery.
I was listening to the latest International Feel release, the excellent Wolf Müller and Cass album The Sound of Glades, and doing some research for my writeup. I read up about the label, the artists, and the album, and came upon a description of balearic music that mentioned Sade as a defining early example.
I was shocked. This went completely against the hazy preconception I held about her music. I searched her discography and picked one from the 1980s and was immediately put off, but only for about twenty seconds. Next, the rug was pulled out from under me.
The most cheesy of classically 80s sounding jazz riffs opens the album like the start of a condom ad or a sketch comedy show, but it soon gives way to a subtle groove and Sade’s improbably gorgeous vocals. This honestly felt like an “I’ve gone too far” moment for a guy who’s grown to love the repurposed elements of cheese from my childhood years, but it was a wonderful fake out. The intro is an odd fanfare that opens a truly sumptuous, emotionally weighty love song. I quickly began to enjoy it along with the rest of the tune, a perfect opener as I could have hoped for.
The song, Is It a Crime, was a hit in 1985 for very good reason. This is sublimely focused, rich but delicately balanced music. It tells a real story. It’s more jazz than R&B, but the only surprise in that revelation comes from my own ignorance. I’m so thankful that I decided to give Sade a chance, destroying a pointless old idea I held.
I’m always open to try new things, but when it comes to relatively well known artists that exist somewhere in the popular consciousness, it’s easy to form an idea that holds for years because there’s no reason to challenge it. But along came a lure that tugged my ear. I’ve now listened to her first four albums and although I enjoy them all, Promise is still my favorite.
I could go with one of the big singles, but War of the Hearts has captured my imagination the most. Quietly stunning torch song here:
Listen to Promise streaming on Spotify or buy it pretty much anywhere on CD for cheap.