Indian mythology asserts a rather dreary forecast when contemplating time. A regular kalpa lasts 16,798,000 years, and depending on what kalpa you are describing, that number could go as high as 1.28 trillion, with each kalpa representing a differing phase of existence in the universe. It's a sinister concoction, like lying in the bowels of the sand monster Sarlaac in Tattoine's Dune Sea for innumerable years, with you slowly digesting, alive yet helpless, for an eon.
That's kind of what it feels like waiting ten years for a new Sade album.
Yet when the wait is over, you can breath easier. You feel that listening to Soldier of Love. "In Another Time" is one of those life-soundtrack songs recalling her greatest: "Smooth Operator," "Jezebel," with a comparable saxophone to boot. These days, it's hard to throw a sax into R&B and not make it sound gratuitous. Sade (which is the band's name as well as the singer's; here she is referred to as the singer) has never been an island, something she recognizes and extends to those around her. The instrumental team, led by guitarist/sax player Stuart Matthewman (aka Cottonbelly) is highly skilled; bassist Paul Denman and keyboard player Andrew Hale complement her voice graciously. Yet these men need her too: alter-group Sweetback has its moments, but I rarely return to their albums. Sade at times merits a daily dose.
Only right now it's an hourly medication. On top of that, the album arrived with high expectations. Lover's Rock was a breakthrough for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was her first deep foray into reggae. "Slave Song" still sits atop my all-Sade list, though truth be told, I can envision, on certain days, that either "Skin" or "The Moon and the Sky" could sneak into that coveted position. Nothing on Solider offers as hard a beat as her previous outing (though "Bring Me Home" and "Skin" come close). Reggae is predominantly absent, though we do find a sliver of country permeating the melody of "Be That Easy." I was not, however, looking for Lover's Rock Vol 2. What I wanted was Sade 2010, and fortunately she was listening--not to me, but to herself. She has this thing about not repeating herself, and she lives true to it.
My friend Fabian commented that it's a "sexy" album. I agree, though prefer "sensual." Then again, I've always preferred that word: sexy is an overused adjective that applies to way too many things that it shouldn't, like churned pop singers and liquor ads. Sensual still salvages a bit of the intended meaning: an energetic resonance, a heartfelt connection to something greater than yourself, whether experienced in private with a lover or in the solitude of bass-heavy earbuds--the sense that more exists than our individual cravings, and to find music that speaks to those needs is the highest art. We need that warmth in our lives. We have to revolt against tinny computer speakers and the static that over-trebled made-for-Billboard music creates. More specifically, we must balance agitating frequencies in our lives with soothing ones. Sade's voice is a salve for such affliction.
Which is probably why this album is an organic masterpiece in the overproduced contemporary music world. Soldier of Love is not twiddled and murdered like a pop record, though with any luck (and cultural sanity) it will outsell the drivel. It comes across like the most soulful of Soul records. Sade has always been masterful at creating singles. Everyone knows "The Sweetest Taboo" within two seconds. Ninety-five percent of us can agree that we know exactly what she's singing about on "Never As Good As The First Time," and easily fall in love with her for recognizing that feeling so beautifully. I can only hope that every one of us has lived through a moment of life in which "No Ordinary Love" perfectly captures. Tragic, if not.
Yet Sade never created a full album until Lover's Rock. Sad as it is, her entire catalog does not stand the test of time. She lived through the synthesized eighties; she went the cool jazz route. Her later voice begged forgiveness, rooting itself in our Cavaricci and leather prom-era photos. We gave it to her. She returned the favor, ten years ago creating a monumental album. This year, another. Sade sits among that rare pantheon of vocalists who embodies the archetypes of human emotions without sounding contrived or cheesy, without coming off as an auto-tuned prototype lifting lyrics from the book, The Secret.
Credit the intention, celebrate the presentation, like Jeff Buckley being Van Morrison better than Van Morrison. It happens. Sometimes we have to move our egos aside, more often than we do. "I'm a soldier of love, every day and night of my life" could fail miserably as a lead single. Here, the military march is a call to arms. Ambiguous, it has a broad touch. Her hope is to positively affect as many people as possible with an assured and skillful hand--her loss of ego for the greater good. I'm not divinizing her. She just finds routes to your heart quicker and more effectively than most, and does not capitalize on that.
How could she, releasing an album a decade? The woman rarely appears for media opps, except to tell the world about something new. She does not allow remixes, outside the epic Cottonbelly take of "By Your Side." Any other I've found is white label, and suffers the consequences of bootlegging. She dresses simply, elegantly honest. Very often she appears in your life at the perfect moment: a throwback inside a winter café, a soulful serenade lying on a sultry sandscape. Here, "Long Hard Road" could very well be that track you never forget, that warms you when things grow cold.
Sade could take twenty for the follow-up to Soldier, and bets are little will change. In the meantime, we have a new mantra to attune to, and pray a speedy return.
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