Lovers Rock is the first collection of new work by Sade in eight years. But it's a record that says less about those years gone by than the promise and vitality of the here and now. It's an album that's by turns moving, elegiac and beautiful. Like the tender, acoustic guitar-driven first single, 'By Your Side', a song about the tensile strength of love, it is music stripped back to its essential elements: voice, melody, and meticulously arranged instrumentation. The result is a record of bare, sometimes startlingly, immediacy.
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But then Helen Folasade Adu is a woman who has never had anything to hide. Born in Ibadan, Nigeria and raised in Colchester, Essex, where she moved at 4 after her English mother separated from her Nigerian father, she's spent her life trying to do what feels right, honest and true. Because by comparison nothing else has seemed as important. When she was growing up, Sade would listen to soul artists like Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. Singers uniquely attuned to the complex sensibilities of heartache and hope, who were skilled enough to create from those feelings, something lasting and transcendent. Still she didn't think about singing herself. Rather, she studied fashion at St Martin's art college, only signing on as vocalist when a couple of old school friends started a band "until they found a proper singer". From there to singing with early Eighties Latin funk collective Pride, she discovered a rare delight in songwriting. It was while she was with that group, Sade co-wrote 'Smooth Operator' with Ray St. John, and it was from there that Sade abandoned diffidence and finally stepped centre stage to form her own group with fellow Pride members Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Spencer Denman.
in 1984 their first single your love is king became a top ten hit. and quite abruptly sade herself became an icon. if during the eighties, she seemed to embody newly discovered values of aspiration and elegance, there was, and remains, something more fundamental to account for sade's popularity. her music has a resilience that belies its apparent softness. it stays in the heart and in the head long after the last notes have fallen silent, in the same way that the embers of a love affair never truly go cold. that's why, just a year after the first single, she became one of the few recording artists ever to appear on the cover of time magazine. because from the very beginning her music transcended the pop moment.
indeed, with the release in 1984 of her debut diamond life, sade was speaking to a global audience. featuring hit singles your love is king, smooth operator and hang on to your love, the album spent 98 weeks on the uk charts and 81 weeks on the billboard charts. sade received a bpi award for best album and a grammy for best new artist. after diamond life came 1985's promise, the rich, evocative second album that yielded hits such as is it a crime and the sweetest taboo, which has become one of the most played songs in radio history. like it's predecessor, this too was an international multi-platinum success. yet the paradox of true artistry is that it makes the very difficult appear instinctive and easy. that's why art is so compelling. because the finished work is so dazzling that it demands a leap of imagination to picture the struggle that's gone into it's conception. this is why sade, who has never allowed her music to be anything less than immaculate, tantalises audiences so. throughout her career, there has been intense public curiosity about sade's private life, as though its uncovering will reveal how she comes to make such compelling music. but modern celebrity culture, with its prurient demands for increasingly intimate revelations, has its perils. and sensing these from early on, sade has tried simply to remain true to herself by only doing interviews and only making music when she has something to say. wary of the press clamour that was building in the eighties, the singer relocated temporarily to madrid, although she strongly refuted "the myth that i'm a shy, reclusive diva. i'm not shy or reclusive. i just spend my time with people rather than journalists." three years later, she reconvened the group to record stronger than pride, the 1988 hit album which produced memorable singles like paradise, love is stronger than pride and nothing can come between us. in the album's wake came a pan-continental tour across europe, australia and japan that included sade's first full-scale arena tour of america. throughout their history, the group have always attracted a diverse, multi-racial audience who are drawn by the band's open-minded approach to music. sade have created dance floor classics, songs for film soundtracks, radio favourites and late night love anthems, at the same time refusing to be classified simply as a pop group, an r&b act, a soul band or anything else as one-dimensional. instead, like the multi-cultural london streets the group hails from, their music has thrived by embracing diversity as a guiding principle.
in 1992, sade released love deluxe, a bold, emotionally honest album that won huge critical and commercial acclaim. in america it spent 90 weeks on the billboard charts, while the single no ordinary love, featured prominently in the robert redford movie indecent proposal. in 1994 came the 16 track best of sade, but now, eight years since her last new work and after 40 million record sales, she releases lovers rock. stripped down and subtle, it is a deceptively simple record that showcases sade's remarkable talent as a writer of songs that bear a hallmark of enduring refinement. from the spare, acoustic sweetest gift to the poignant all about our love and the moving slave song, this is an album of warmth and intimacy and sensitivity. on lovers rock, as she has done with earlier albums, sade continues to describe the secret murmurs of the heart's desire, remaining true to herself in her work by always reaching further, always stretching higher.
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