By Clarence Haynes
La Marr J., a grad student and publishing colleague of mine, once described Sade as a “moon goddess,” a mysterious divine entity who enters our terrestrial hemisphere every several years to bless us with her presence.
And in truth, with Soldier of Love, the sixth original release in twenty five years from the sultry, glamorous soul-jazz band known as Sade (taken from the goddess’ full name Helen Folasade Adu), it does feel like the world has been waiting for the descent. The album has been near the top of the Amazon and iTunes charts weeks before its drop date based on pre-orders alone. (The act has remained out of the public eye since the tour supporting its last release, 2000’s Lovers Rock.)
The handsome, fleshy vocals of Sade the singer have been a cornerstone of the group’s sound; atmospheric, lush arrangements of African rhythms and adult pop, sometimes with synth beats , electronic warbles and atmospheric effects.
Soldier is in some ways a surprising collection then, more mournful and heavy than its predecessor, favoring acoustic production choices during a digital age to highlight songs that balance emotional pain with support and hopefulness. Love‘s steadfastness is a recurring theme, as exemplified by the lyrics found in the title track: “I’ve been torn up inside, I’ve been left behind/ So I rise, I have the will to survive.”
Other tracks like “The Moon and the Sky” and “Long Hard Road”detail the desolation experienced from love’s end, hints of betrayal lurking in corners. Yet on “Morning Bird,” the wails of ended romance come in and fade away quickly in the background. This moment captures one of Soldier‘s biggest themes: as we go through our highs and lows, make it a quiet storm.
Sade has always been a chill-out enterprise, yet Soldier takes this idea up a notch, with only “Bring Me Home” matching “Soldier of Love”‘s more uptempo pace. The album’s pace makes for a listening experience that immediately induces stillness, that elusive concept, and it can be hard to bear when listening to some of the records more painful recitations of a life experience.
Still, there’s a payoff to sitting down and paying close attention, like hearing the subtle chord changes in the bassline of the rebirth song “Skin.” Or noting the subtle orchestral crescendo created on “In Another Time,” which, like Lovers Rock‘s gospel-influenced “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through,” offers advice to a girl (perhaps the singer’s younger self) struggling to find a sense of inner peace and understanding
We are in a media era of bombast, of relentless look-at-me, of the need to be constantly engaged. The message from the moon goddess seems clear: It’s ok to sit with our pain and let it be held in intimate moments so it can be sent to the heavens. It’s ok to sit with yourself or your sweetie and chill out for 42 minutes to float on a bed of song.
Many of us are thankful for the benediction, no matter how long we have to wait.