The Essential Sade


Epic, 2014

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I'm very surprised that in her heyday, Sade was never asked to sing a James Bond theme song. She certainly has the presence and self-confidence of a Shirley Bassey, Adele or Tina Turner. And if she had to submit one song off this collection, "Soldier Of Love" would be the ideal candidate, as its staccato, professionally sensual approach fits the Bond opening credit theme perfectly.

The song runs on for three minutes longer than it needs to, but it is nevertheless a highlight of Sade's catalog, which includes six albums between 1984 and 2010. Basically, the London quartet was popular in the mid ‘80s with "The Sweetest Taboo" and "Smooth Operator," and then their output and interest tapered off, with only 1992's Love Deluxe, 2000's Lovers Rock and 2010's Soldier Of Love arriving after that peak period.

That may surprise some people who only vaguely know Sade as the detached, cool voice behind "Smooth Operator," and how you feel about that song will dictate how you feel about the rest of this collection. Taking a band with six albums and only a handful of hits and stretching out to two discs is very generous, because a single disc would easily do with most bands. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The truth is that Sade's catalog is not terribly diverse, so this is probably too much for anyone outside of the hardcore or the very curious. To entice both groups, four new songs are included as well as a Neptunes remix of the 2000 song "By Your Side." A song like "Smooth Operator" was perfect for the '80s, fusing R&B, smooth jazz and pop into a seamless, very professional whole, sung by a lady who was the epitome – on record, at least – of detached elegance just this side of boredom.

There are a few good songs worth checking out, though, and anyone who likes those ought to feel free to examine the rest of this. The insistent bass lines of the suave "Paradise" and its cousin "Nothing Can Come Between Us" result in very good, organic R&B with a hint of smooth jazz that could have been recorded last week. And although "Smooth Operator" was rightfully the highlight from the 1984 debut Diamond Life, "Hang On To Your Love" is even better, one of the few times Sade Adu is both sexy and approachable in her singing, with another great bassline locking in a groove that will not let go.

The acoustic cover of Thin Lizzy's "Still In Love With You" is a good surprise and the new track "Love Is Found" is a slight nod to modern R&B. And although they are not standouts musically, the stories of "Jezebel" and "Immigrant" showcase a side of Sade not often heard between all the songs of love and loss. Would that the rest hit these highlights, but these two discs, especially the second one, are full of soundalike ballads (except for the unnecessary and not good collaboration with Jay-Z, a remix of "The Moon And The Sky").

This is fine adult contemporary, perfect for enhancing the mood of whatever you are doing – making love, driving nowhere, working as a receptionist in a dentist's office, drinking a martini by yourself even though you really want a Pepsi, searching iTunes for something else to put on – but it rarely transcends that status, coming off as too cool and faux-sophisticated for its own good. Far more than a sampler, this is definitely all the Sade anyone will ever need, but the best moments show that this band was more than the couple of hits that defined it 30 years ago.

Rating: C-

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