Sade: The Essential Sade

Sade the band and the singer are responsible for classy, timeless music. Shame this collection is what feels like a pointless re-packaging
The Essential Sade

“Does this have new liner notes or an essay, which the earlier one does not have? Really need to know this … it’s the same tracklisting and cover … wondering if the earlier collection is worth replacing, that’s all.”

A valid question from an anonymous recent poster on Amazon. The “earlier one” is Sade’s The Ultimate Collection, which was issued in 2011 and reached No. 7 in the US album charts. The CD is in my collection and, in addressing the question from our anonymous poster, I can confirm that the tracklisting (and cover – except it’s a black and white, not colour, photo, natch) for the two albums is identical. The only addition to the Essential Collection is a list of credits for each track – but there’s no trace of liner notes, an essay or an account of the recordings. In their press release, Sony’s sub-division Legacy Recordings bracket the Sade release with other “Essential” collections from an eclectic line-up of Doris Day, East Wind & Fire, and Julio Iglesias. Legacy claim that the Essential series “has set a worldwide standard” in retrospective collections – which begs the question why they couldn’t be bothered to commission a decent writer (PopMatters have a few) to pen some notes to this anthology.

The cynicism of this approach (why not just re-package every year and claim it’s an update just because it has a different release date on it?!) leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Which is a shame, as Sade’s class remains undimmed, regardless of how her music is packaged. So, if you own The Ultimate Collection, I suggest you stop reading now. But if by chance you don’t own that or anything much of Sade’s 30-year output, then The Essential Sade would be as a good a start as any.

When considering Sade’s output, it’s important to realise two things: first, Sade is actually a group; second, the singer is called Sade Adu, and she has consistently been one of the best female singers of the last three decades. This is not to label the material on this album one of pure perfection. In fact, listening through the best of Sade’s output (singles, some album tracks) in chronological order is a reminder that the sound has sometimes become a bit tired. Stale and, frankly, boring.

The tracks from the first album Diamond Life are certainly nigh on perfect. “Smooth Operator” is the sound of the consummate well-oiled machine; and the segue from the its unhurried groove to the urgent bass riff of “Hang on to Your Love” is faultless. But in the mid- to late ‘80s, as Sade went stellar-global, they could be accused of lapsing into one-paced supper club passivity. Naturally, there were still gems like “Jezebel”: an acoustic guitar/sax/electric piano ensemble backing up Adu’s increasingly maturing husky tones – a performance overall that the ‘80s Sting would have died for. But there was nonetheless a sense of the group’s success dulling their appetite.

It’s not clear what precipitated it, but there was a real upturn in the early ‘90s. “No Ordinary Love”, a US Top 10 single from 1992, is the exemplar: passionate, yet beautifully under-stated and with an appreciation of what creating space in sound can achieve, it is clearly a ‘90s and not ‘80s sound – and you suspect it influenced an awful lot of records over the following decade.

There was another dip in the late 90s/early noughties, when Sade could justifiably be criticised for not moving with the times. But that lapse (although the music always remained listenable) can be forgiven for a terrific return to form since the release of 2010’s Soldier of Love album. The title track is a bit edgy (definitely not a Sade characteristic over the years) and shows its creators finally waking up to the R&B revolution. “The Moon and the Sky” and “Love Is Found” deliver more of the same. And anyone who can revive and record a tasteful and fresh cover of Thin Lizzy’s glorious ballad “Still In Love With You” deserves crowning glory.

If you are unfamiliar with Sade’s records, this is a great album and worth your money. But, in all honesty Sony, is this “re-release” really necessary? Better, surely, to invest in some new product from an artist who still has the ability to learn and develop.

RATING 6 / 10
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