Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Soldier of Love"; was a long time coming for reclusive Sade

Sade's jazzy soul songs have often teetered between heartbreak and hope, and the title track of her just-out Soldier of Love album walks that emotional line over a crackling martial groove that returns the British chanteuse to the spotlight for the first time in a decade.

She says fans were always asking when she'd release a successor to 2000's Lovers Rock, which sold nearly 4 million copies, but she was never ready to set aside a block of time to record one.

"Life kind of gets in the way of it, and time always passes quicker than you think," says Sade (aka Sade Adu), 51, by phone from her home in England. "One of the reasons it takes me a long time to get back into the studio is that once I go in, I'm there for the duration.

"It's like embarking on a long journey on a ship, and once I'm on it, I can't get off."

She and bandmates Stuart Matthewman, Paul Denman and Andrew Hale broke through in 1984 with Diamond Life, which earned them the best-new-artist Grammy. A performance at Live Aid exposed the group to a global TV audience of 1.4 billion, and all of Sade's subsequent, less frequent albums —Promise (1985), Stronger Than Pride (1988), Love Deluxe (1992) and Lovers Rock (2000) — went multiplatinum.

The album makes its debut at No. 1 on Billboard's album chart, with first-week sales of 502,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The band began crafting the 10-song Soldier of Love two years ago, and Matthewman and Denman commuted from the USA for a series of two-week sessions at a studio near Sade's home in rural Gloucestershire. The quartet, who have worked together since their pre-fame days as part of the Latin funk band Pride, managed to rediscover their chemistry, even though they had seen little of one another in the past decade.

"It's like a real powerful long-distance relationship," she says. "We really do pick up where we left off in terms of our musical friendship."

Emil Wilbekin, managing editor of Essence.com, says Sade is a rare artist who can stay away for long periods but still have fans eagerly awaiting her return because she's a genuine artist.

"We're in this age of transition with everything digital and Auto-Tuned, and here she is with this beautiful, soulful, emotional voice," Wilbekin says. "She captures an intimacy that we don't have much in music anymore. She makes you feel like she's sitting with you in your living room and singing."

The new album is at once fresh and familiar. The mesmerizing rhythms and hauntingly sensual vocals that have been Sade's signature since the group's debut seem unaffected by pop music's changing flavors. Sade says the band guards against letting outside influences infiltrate the music just to sell records.

"We've never been a trendy band," she says; the group's five previous albums sold a total of 17 million copies in the USA. "If what we do comes from the heart, I kind of feel that there will be somebody that gets it. It's a privilege for us to be in a position where we can make the music we want to make."

The rollout of the new album means the public is seeing a lot more than usual of the reclusive singer, who wraps up with a stop Saturday on The Wanda Sykes Show. She shuns the limelight and strives to keep her private life private. (She shares a home with partner Ian Watts, her teenage daughter and his teenage son.)

"I suppose people expect singers to be in your face," Sade says. "I do my best to put as much of me inside a song as I can, and I don't want it to go any further. I never hankered for the attention other people might want as affirmation."

By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

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