Soothe Operators

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Hardly a year after Sade’s comeback thrust Soldier of Love comes a magnificent surprise package. With The Ultimate Collection, three decades of choice ‘sessy’ music is finally ready for the masses

Something strange happened when Diamond Life was released to an unsuspecting world in 1984. Featuring a quartet of capable musicians, whose R&B and jazz influences eschewed the era’s de rigueur pop schlock, a new-age soundtrack for sultriness came to be

This was Sade, the band, named after their front-woman Helen Folassade Adu. For decades, her silky croon has filled hotel bars and lounges that pass for romantic settings. Her voice is so distinctive, almost like a passionate whisper, some critics have had the audacity to claim she can’t sing.

Sade, a half-Nigerian stunner, is also legend for guarding her privacy. A close-to-non-existent public persona is spared cheapening by the UK’s notorious tabloids (see Amy Winehouse) and is not the subject of white-hot speculation about matters strange and controversial (see Freddie Mercury).

Thus, two marriages and many platinum albums later, Sade has maintained that hallowed aura about her. She’s like a sorceress whose only compulsion for touring is to appear beneath the stage lights and cast an unshakable spell on a mesmerized audience.

Sade, the band and the singer, are unique in modern music for other reasons. Together with the extreme privacy that Ms Sade maintains, the band often takes an awful lot of time before getting together to write new material.

Since their well received debut in 1984, Sade has churned out a grand total of five studio albums, a few minor non- studio releases in between, and generated a significant cult following. This exceptionalism should serve as both lesson and inspiration for surviving in the music biz: Staying true to your [he]art has its priceless rewards.

For Sade, it means maintaining an unchallenged position as the biggest-selling female-fronted band in the UK, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million albums sold worldwide.

Their mystique is what should compel anyone who takes their musical taste seriously to appreciate Sade’s oeuvre, which is finally compressed in the two-disc The Ultimate Collection. For the record, this is Sade’s second ‘best of’ release.

For many artists, such albums are usually contractual obligations that herald their departure from a current label. Consider it a final attempt of the aggrieved label to profit from a favored artist’s work before they are gone forever. In Sade’s case, it’s Epic Records, one of the few remaining big players in the global (read: American-owned) music monopoly.

Listening to the massive two-disc compilation, whose other versions include a nice live DVD, guarantees a rewarding aural diversion. At 30 songs deep, it comprises a handful of selections from each Sade album plus several previously unreleased tracks.

Even the most casual Sade fans are treated with familiar titles like Smooth Operator, Cherish the Day, King of Sorrow, and the lead single from their last album, Soldier of Love. Without a doubt, this is music ideal for intimate escapades or extended honeymoons.

Surprises abound amid the glut of soft beats, wailing saxophones, and Sade’s ecstatic utterances about matters tragic-romantic. For example, there’s the cinematic sweep of Love Is Found, a fresh track whose chorus has an uncharacteristic ‘My heart goes ba-boom ba-boom, ba-boo- boom-ba-boom-ba-boom.’ It’s infectious to a somewhat annoying degree.

The odyssey finishes a The Moon and the Sky remix where Jay-Z almost ruins the track with an unwelcome cameo, bringing too much of his New York grit to an otherwise sensuous rendition.

The shades are finally drawn past an equally remixed By Your Side, thus ending a torrid affair. For lovers of relaxing background audio, Sade’s biggest offering yet is truly a worthy purchase.

Print ed: 11/11

 

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