Sade: Soldier of Love

Among the pundits contemplating the fate of the recorded music industry, the idea of the economics of scarcity has come under scrutiny. The Internet provides such fast access to content that providing more material sooner is becoming the conventional wisdom for newer artists.

All this talk of business, however, doesn’t factor in a fairly persnickety detail — the muse.

Just because you ought to hose listeners with content, content, content doesn’t mean you should. Or even can.

Sade is the extreme opposite example of such emerging conventional wisdom. Back in the ’80s, it was easy to feel Sade fatigue because she and her band produced prodigiously from 1985 to 1988. The lag set in with 1992’s Love Deluxe, and after that … nada.

Eight years passed before Sade resurfaced with Lovers Rock and another ten before Soldier of Love.

These prolonged absences have let Sade’s existing work grow in stature, thus making any "comeback" a Special Event. (Want to know how old this site is? I wrote a review of Lovers Rock when it was first released.)

At the same time, even Sade recognized that coming back with an album after 10 years means no room to slouch. Soldier of Love, thankfully, is not her Chinese Democracy.

Nor is it Promise or Stronger Than Pride. The basic foundation of the Sade aesthetic still serves as an anchor — cosmopolitan jazz pop. But the sound has grown much more inward as the years have passed. At times, Soldier of Love threatens to disappear into its own introspection.

More often than not, the album exemplifies the adage "less is more". There’s not much of a backing track behind "Babyfather", but Sade layers her vocals in ways that make the song sound full. "The Safest Place" is just a guitar, some keyboard and cello, plus a gorgeous melody Sade saw fit to emphasize without much fuss.

The title track is where the band gets most adventurous, between a military beat and some honest-to-goodness distortion in Stuart Matthewman’s guitar (but just a touch, really.)

Soldier of Love doesn’t possess quite the cohesion of Lovers Rock, and the title track is pretty much the only single on the album. But modern Sade, however scarce, really blows early Sade out of the water. 1986’s Promise, an album I downloaded from eMusic just weeks before the release of Soldier of Love, sounds slapdash by comparison.

Of course, Sade the band has been at this music thing for a while, and for them, it’s best not to rush. They could fly in the face of the muse and conform to the new reality of record industry economics. But should they really?

It’s probably no coincidence the band’s best albums — this one and its predecessor — were products of long gestation periods. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.