Sade – Diamond Life – Round 45 – Graham’s Choice

downloadClearly on a roll now, I offered up my 3rd debut album since I couldn’t find one to bring along for the relevant theme night.

I guess when you reflect on the fact you own a record in LP, CD and digital format, there must be something about it that has motivated such purchasing activity. My only problem with this album is not really understanding why, I keep being drawn to pulling it out for a listen on a regular basis since its release in 1984.

It straddles a number of genres ranging across pop/soft-rock/jazz/soul/AOR and more. Certainly in 1984 it didn’t fit with indie tinged range of things I was listening to and seeing live. Maybe it was a London thing, as at the same time as this came out we were venturing “up West” as it were, to small clubs to see people like Carmel perform.

Perhaps we thought we were more sophisticated by dabbling with such styles and putting pop and indie to one side, for a while? More simply it could have been I was 18 and fancied Sade Adu.

It doesn’t sound as smart and cool as it did in 1984, but Sade still smolders in her strangely detached way, all these years later. Sometimes feel this should be available on prescription to all X-factor wannabees, just to show if you have the basis of a good voice, you don’t need to travel through half a dozen notes to sing one well.

Unfortunately, not long after its release, the album seemed to become absorbed by yuppie culture and dinner party soundtracks, leading me to reject it for a few years. But it keeps gnawing away at me over the years for a run out. Perhaps its simply nostalgia that shouldn’t be inflicted on others (I suspect some will agree), but there is something comforting about the style that doesn’t try too hard, is melodic and hooky enough to keep you interested and of course there is always pictures of Sade to look at!

If you were around at the time you you couldn’t ignore the three hit singles and ‘Your Love is King’, ‘Smooth Operator’ and ‘When Am I Going to Make a Living’ remain amongst the best tracks. Only six studio albums since 1984, more than 50 million albums sold worldwide and repeatedly well received output, suggests judicious use of her talents. Strangely, I have never felt inclined to purchase her later works. Perhaps this album fills a personal niche, and for me that’s value enough.

Helpfully the first line on the Wiki page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sade_(band)) cautions you not to confuse Sade with Slade. I wonder how many romantic plans with dimmed lights and a glass of wine have been ruined by Noddy Holder?

Nick listened: “Smooth Operator” is one of those songs that seems, to me, to be burnt into the world’s cultural consciousness, an indelible melody etched into our shared memory. Other than that, the first time I was really aware of Sade in any meaningful sense was circa 2000 when she released an album and was lavished with praise; suddenly I became aware of quite how successful she’d been in the 80s, and how… laid back about the time between album releases. Having gorged on Kaputt last year, and explored some Roxy Music and Prefab Sprout, smooth, sophisticated 80s sounds aren’t as alien to me as they would have been a few years ago. But even so, as beautifully-played (how do young musicians learn to play like this?!) and sung and produced and arranged as this was, there seemed something a little… bloodless… somehow, about it, to me at least. It may be that half the people I know who’ve made music aesthetically similar don’t have voices anywhere near as accomplished as Sade’s, and my brain therefore decodes / unpacks them as somehow riskier, more broken, more human, or it may be that the whole package here is just so smooth and aspirational as to seem unreal and therefore, to me, if not to millions of others, not worth thinking about anymore than I think about driving a Bentley. (Conversely the unrealness of My Bloody Valentine does appeal, but it’s a very different sort of unreal.) But a good listen nonetheless, and a surprising and excellent choice for our little club to pontificate on.

Tom Listened: I suppose we all go through that phase, usually in our mid to late teens, when we come to realise that our parents are not quite the all conquering super-heroes we always assumed they were (in my case their loss of status was only slight), when they reveal themselves as ‘as fallible as the rest of us’ human beings. I distinctly remember an incident in my adolescence that epitomised this realisation – the point when my pop music hating father returned from a long car journey extolling the virtues of this ‘amazing’ new artist he had discovered being played on the radio whilst he was driving – Sade. Now, the problem was not with Sade’s music at all, it was in my father’s reluctance to listen to any of the music we liked at the time (Beatles, Stones, early Elton John, Queen, Police) with anything other than sniffy dismissiveness at its ‘vacuous, trivial nature’ whilst then extolling such smooth, undemanding, seemingly light fare as Diamond Life. My brother and I just couldn’t compute this and so we dismissed the music of Sade without really considering its worth in just the same way as our father did with our favourite records.

I’m pretty sure that I had never listened to Diamond Life all the way through before Graham played it to us, but I had heard Smooth Operator and Your Love is King like a squillion times and, despite not having listened to them for ages, they still felt ubiquitous and slightly overfamiliar. I preferred the tracks on the album that I had not previously heard and it was not difficult to see why this album was such a big seller and also why my father would have liked it back in the mid 80s. For me, a little like Nick, it felt just a bit too smooth and polished to fully appeal and I didn’t get a sense of Sade as a person (although she’s got a wonderful voice) – in direct contrast to The Blue Nile, I felt as though she was detached from the material she was singing on Diamond Life and therefore I found it hard to connect with the record. So were Ben and I right to turn our backs on our father’s latest love 27 years ago? The jury’s still out, but I suspect it will be a verdict we never entirely find out!

Rob listened: I remember Sade as a mysterious and alluring character when I was growing up. Her songs never quite fit the pop mould they were apparently being squeezed into and, as far as I could tell, she was no ordinary pop singer, no Alison Moyet or Rick Astley. Although all three certainly had wonderful voices, I can’t recall Sade having a public profile as most pop stars were required to. Whilst I never felt the singles from Diamond Life were for me, I definitely did feel that they were something ‘other’. Fast forward 16 years and I found myself sufficiently intrigued and enticed by the reviews of ‘Lovers Rock’ to go out and buy it, although I recall pathetically claiming I’d picked it up as I thought my wife might like it, before keeping it in my car for the next 6 months. It’s a great record, with through lines from ‘A Love Supreme’ all the way to The XX.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying I enjoyed listening to Diamond Life for what I reckon must have been the first time. Thanks Graham.

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