While not a masterpiece, in an era where the market has been deluged by a new female soul vanguard that angles increasingly towards pop, Sade remains regal, calm, collected and steadfast, and merely releases the standard bearer album to define the female expression in R & B for 2010.
Sade’s musical legacy lies in her ability to fill expansive emotion into recounting the deep and defining moments of love. It never feels personal to her, but universally personal to the listener, a skill that none have mastered in quite the same realm. She, as well as her band, have made an entire career of this aim, and for her first album release in a decade, Soldier of Love does not deviate from form. There are huge hooks, solid songwriting, fantastically expressive and even fanciful orchestration, and while not a masterpiece, in an era where the market has been deluged by a new female soul vanguard that angles increasingly towards pop, Sade remains regal, calm, collected and steadfast, and merely releases the standard bearer album to define the female expression in R & B for 2010.
The album feels familiar. While many may see that as a negative, to hear a coherent, six minute long single like the lead single “Soldier of Love” in an era where most singers are barely allowed to fill four minutes with quality material is ultra impressive. It hearkens to the days of her quadruple platinum Love Deluxe album with its deep forays into emotion from a lyric and sonic standpoint. Epic instrumentation outlines the landscape where Sade is loosing this torch song of undaunted romantic aspiration.
But Sade’s had the same band for 27 years. This familiarity breeds a certain contempt for the excellence on the record as there’s very few forays into anything musically jarring or slightly different. Stuart Matthewman’s guitar may still be one of the most underrated yet stirring and distinctive sounds in soul history. While always wonderful to hear him, as well as the rest of the band, their sound is so anachronistic to the current norm that for the mainstream pop listener, this album though overwhelmingly fantastic, may seem frighteningly pedantic.
However, there are certainly glimmers of expansion on the album. Tracks like “Be That Easy,” a pop standard ballad that with it’s Roy Orbison recalling guitars and Hammond organs sounds like something from the Al Green and Willie Mitchell collection is fantastic, while “Bring Me Home” is a surprise with a muted yet still hard hip hop break and a beautiful guitar is crying for a credible emcee for a remix. And “Skin” may feature some of Sade’s most emotionally inspired songwriting since Lovers Rock’s “By Your Side” when she sings “now it’s time to wash you off my skin, and it’s alright, because you’re not right within.”
Sade’s a classic in a class all unto herself. From debut Diamond Life onward, each of her five albums has been a certified platinum splash that has altered the soul and pop music landscape. While the record industry is a different entity entirely in 2010 than ever before, this will likely not be a sixth platinum record. However, Sade, now 51, with 50 million albums sold behind her, is now the stuff of awe and honor. The excellence of her craft, more than apparent on this release, now defines her as one of the all time legends of this generation.