Beyond fashion

Eight years since her last release, Sade returns with every iota of soul and feeling we’ve ever loved her for. There’s something about a great voice married to an infallible rightness of form — it’s the promise that Sade has always kept, even in her more commercial brushes with pop epiphany. Slow funk-jazz, glamorized folk, a hint of reggae here and there — all blended smoothly together to catharsis. Whenever she starts that sweetest of all taboos, one of her long melodies of wistful sadness, you already know in your mindless mind (uh, body) where she’s going and you love it to death.

On Lovers Rock, the production is so intimate that your favorite bar DJ won’t be able to play these cuts without patrons getting closer than close. Yet Sade’s sensuality has always belied an emotional depth that makes each song of love a tearfully wise, lived-and-paid-for heart, full of connections. Though “Somebody Already Broke My Heart” starts off with telltale signs of delicate, ultraminimal funk, Sade lays out the full power of her vulnerability in the blink of an eye, the space of a sob: “I’ve been torn apart so many times/I’ve been hurt so many times before/So I’m counting on you now … Somebody already broke my heart (no, no, I can’t go there again).”

Then the wisdom of this set extends to pain in other forms, as in “Slave Song,” a Marley-and-Wailers-esque chant of prayer, with Sade’s voice backed word for word by a chorus: “Teach my beloved children who have been enslaved/to reach for the light continually.” It’s a stubborn refusal of oppression, but sung so personally as to make it a lyrical poem.

It’s hard to choose favorites from the 11 cuts which flow together so seamlessly on this profound return to form, but “By Your Side” (with its folkie guitars and lover-as-ultimate-friend message: “Ohhh/when you’re cold/I’ll be there/hold you tight to me”), “Flow” (haunted by an eerie Eraserhead cry, more plaintive than horrifying) and “The Sweetest Gift” (echoing “For Your Precious Love” and demonstrating Sade’s perfect phrasing) are highlights among the endless highlights of Lovers Rock.

Like Edith Piaf and Maria Callas, Sade makes possible the impossible.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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