Your Love is King
en: Diamond Life [info]
When you hear the bangs, crashes and whirrs that most music made in 1984, it is amazing to hear how pure and unaffected the debut album by Sade, Diamond Life, still sounds. Emerging from St Martin's Art School in London, the band was formed from London funk favourites Pride. Adored by publications such as The Face, the group's lead singer Sade Adu looked stunning and had a voice to match.
Produced by Robin Millar, Diamond Life succeeded in making the Soho in-crowd of the early 80s an in-crowd for the world. With well-honed originals and a cover of Timmy Thomas' rare groove swamp ballad Why Can't We Live Together?, Sade made explicit both the musical elitism and joy of discovery of that era.
Smooth Operator is a perfect capture of this heady, glossy time. Adu's voice curls round the recording like smoke. Your Love Is King - surprisingly, their only ever UK top 10 single - is sweetness writ large. There's the dispassionate funk of Hang on to Your Love and the penniless optimism of When Am I Going to Make a living?, which provided a mellow critique of Margaret Thatcher's Britain ("Haven't I told you before that we're hungry for a life we can't afford?"). The funk of Cherry Pie is reminiscent of later period Roxy Music, a huge, effortless wash of sound.
However, dissenters were rather sniffy about Sade. The album chimed perfectly with the loadsamoney era, and was used by its myriad listeners as a shortcut for Sade's huge library of musical references. Why hear Roberta Flack, or Donny Hathaway, when you had this? Tracks such as Frankie's First Affair are rather mired in their day, as is Sally with Stuart Matthewman's sax draped all over it like some bad detective soundtrack.
Diamond Life became a statistician's dream; it spent 99 weeks on the UK chart, racked up awards, launched a hugely successful career in the US and put Sade on the bill at Live Aid, and still no-one really had any clue who Adu and her band were. For them, there was no celebrity, no pouring out of clubs at 4am. It started them as a cottage industry at the centre of the music business, and that continues to this day.
Sade the band emerged in the early-80s out of London's short-lived New Jazz scene, one that also included Animal Nightlife and Weekend; it was the logical mellow next step after the frenetic white funk of Blue Rondo a la Turk, Spandau Ballet, Funkapolitan et al. And Sade the singer was a former model and fashion maven who first came to prominence as eminence grise of style bible the Face. She seemed destined for stardom, even if nobody was quite sure she would achieve it via music.
Sade's debut album, Diamond Life, confirmed that she was more than just a beautifully sculpted face. For a start, she could sing, although instead of the ostentatious melismas we've become accustomed to from soul singers these days, Sade's voice was husky and restrained, oozing class and suggestive of hard-won experience, making her sound like a Wardour Street Billie Holiday.
And she could write songs to match, songs that were sufficiently soulful and jazzy yet poppy, funky yet easy listening, to appeal to fans of all those genres. Smokey Robinson coined the term "quiet storm" to describe a certain kind of mellifluous R&B back in the mid-70s, and the four-times-platinum Diamond Life, which won the BRIT Award for Best Album in 1985, and its attendant four singles, helped give that gently turbulent music a wide, even international audience. It reached number five in the States, where Sade continues to exert a tremendous fascination with her uniquely British take on US black music idioms.
At first listen, it could be confused with supperclub muzak. Your Love Is King, the first single in the UK, flattered to deceive with its sax refrain and gossamer rhythms, but there was a melancholy beneath the surface that snagged. Smooth Operator, too, was almost as slick as the titular ladykiller. But there was a sense of desperation about Hang on to Your Love, while When Am I Going to Make a Living reeked of Thatcher-era hard times, even if the music was expensive and sleek.
These four tracks were all singles, but the beauty of Diamond Life is that four more of the total nine could easily have been lifted off for release, especially Frankie's First Affair, I Will Be Your Friend and Sally, which helped posit Diamond Life as the missing link between torch ballads and trip hop.