I am convinced Sade Adu lives not among us (nor, apparently, in Jamaica, where she’s had a few … um … issues), but in the long-lost ocean kingdom of Atlantis, in a house that looks a lot like the mermaid scenes in the “No Ordinary Love” video. It is there that she hones her craft—practicing her vocal scales, making sweet love to some lucky merman, furiously downloading Barry White bootlegs, and slowly—very slowly—writing songs. About every eight or ten years or so, she literally surfaces to show off her most recent creations, and we all swoon and disrobe and commence propagating our species in time with her music.
Can it possibly be 18 years since Adu and her cohorts in Sade dropped Love Deluxe (which I consider to be the band’s best record)? Ten since Lovers Rock? When word came a few months back of a new Sade album, I gotta say, I began preparing to swoon, disrobe, and propagate (at my age, a little head start is a good thing), but the first single from Soldier of Love—the title track—didn’t move me. I was a bit lost amidst the martial drum accents, references to the “wild, wild west,” and fine, though disconcerting, lines like “I’ve lost the use of my heart but I’m still alive.” This is what I’m supposed to be playing while the wife and I sit in separate bathtubs, gazing at the ocean?
While being a love warrior shares time with the crying of tears as the most often recurring themes and images on Soldier of Love, the album nevertheless displays the best of what Sade albums have always given us, namely pristine production, languid grooves, and Adu’s voice, often in beautiful harmony with itself. Her voice carries “The Moon and the Sky” through its oft-told tale of music jogging your memory of one you loved once but no more. “You’ll always know the reason why this love ain’t gonna let you go,” she sings over a recurring guitar figure, and the pure stylishness of the band’s delivery makes you forget you’re traipsing over well-trodden territory.
An additional feat of style is the beautiful “Morning Bird,” whose meandering piano figure and chorus of upper-register Adu vocals make for a perfect mood piece. It’s so perfect, in fact, that you might not notice right away that the ballad’s underpinning tambourine is sneakily playing a Bo Diddley beat. “Long Hard Road” likewise proceeds in cool slow motion, weaving acoustic guitar and gentle keyboards beneath Adu’s prayer for comfort. “There’s a long, hard road ahead,” she sings, “but a voice inside me said / Said there’s something that you need to know / It’s going to be all right.” There’s no not believing such a calming instrument.
Soldier of Love‘s final two tracks are my favorites on the record. “Skin” is a hypnotic lover’s farewell that packs devastating truths in the compact poetry of the lyric:
Now as I begin
To wash you off my skin
I wanna peel you away
Cause you’re not right within
That image—”I wanna peel you away”—is remarkable for the way it portrays the close-as-skin aspect of a relationship as something not easily removed or discarded. Its intensity is remedied by the closing “The Safest Place.” With pastoral imagery and serene instrumental atmospherics, Adu offers comfort to her lover:
My heart as been a lonely warrior
Who’s been to war
So you can be sure
In my heart your love has found
The safest hiding place
What they’re hiding from is never revealed, but the sheltering calm Adu promises is sufficient protection from whatever it may be. Any fear can subside; love will hold them tightly, tiding them over until the danger passes.
Will Soldier of Love tide us listeners over until our favorite citizen of Atlantis re-emerges, a decade or so from now? Time will tell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple bathtubs to fill up.