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Beige Against The Machine: Sade has turned 64

Searching for certainty when, if I can paraphrase ABC’s Martin Fry, it’s such an unstable world, some thoughts on today’s birthday girl Sade Adu.

It’s a world, nonetheless, where people consume, unblinkingly, their music du jour through pre-determined streaming service playlists with grim titles such as Cinematic Chillout, Music For Concentration and Songs About Fucking — oh, sorry, I mean Songs For Sleeping. obviously. It begs the question — how does an act that is already six albums into a career spanning four decades grab the attention of the zombified masses?

Masses moreover, who willingly listen to generic playlists entitled Songs For Sleeping (Spotify: 300,000 subscribers), Indie Sleeping Pill (Tidal) or Music For When You Are Tired (Tidal again) which are presumably full of lacklustre sub-Adele atrocities – or perhaps Ed Sheeran shite, or even worse, jackass James Blunt and Sam bloody Smith with their music for bedwetters – and for which half the music industry is writing songs for in order earn their way on to that particular money train. Or is it gravy train? As hungry like the poof Sam certainly looks like (s)he enjoys me gravy.

Will he slip away? If only.

Seriously, how did mainstream music get so bland?

In these dire days what we need is blazing colour, not the piss-weak tea and buns routine from the Beige Brigade. OK, I admit, I once sat through Coldplay in concert, but only — honestly — because the far more fabulous Girls Aloud were supporting them, as was Mr Beyoncé, Jay-Z.

Truth be told, beigery types have been infecting the charts for as long as I can remember. When I was a mere slip of an Indie-boy teenager it was all Sophisti-pop smooth cocktail jazz sorts that made music for the pristine CD generation, like the generally edgeless Swing Out Sister, Everything But The Girl, the Blow Monkeys and the Style Council.

Oh and let‘s not forget Sade — a perfect poised Wag Club creation, though they/she often exhibited such colourless crud that I’d categorise her as more mocktail than cocktail. That she was hated by Morrissey means nothing, as Morrissey hates everyone anyway, especially himself.

Your Love Is King and Smooth Operator — Sade’s breakthrough hits from the multi-platinum unit-“shifting” Diamond Life debut that Moz reserved particular ire for in ’84 — were so deathly boring I would cross the street to avoid them, at sprinting pace to avoid falling asleep while I was in the middle of road. 

Middle of the road — yes, there we go. That’s the phrase I was looking for. And the least we say about her wonky “vocals” at Live Aid the better. 

Having said that, I’m not a complete ogre. There are a couple of tunes I wouldn’t turn off if they suddenly took over the airwaves. A top 30 hit in 1988, Paradise is half as pretty as the singer herself, and despite a quietly chugging backing track that goes absolutely nowhere throughout the entire song.

Better still is No Ordinary Love, an atmospheric if undemanding 1992 single that, in an obvious sign of insecurity, her record label Epic, slapped a “remix” of Paradise on the B-side; taking no chances seeing was the previous 45 had stalled at an inglorious 92. The lead single from Sade’s fourth studio album, Love Deluxe, managed to peak at a fair to middling 26. Actually, it served better, especially for the effort Ms Adu went to to dress up as an extra from Splash.

Love Deluxe is the most consistent display of Sade’s unique mode of smoothed-out R&B: an underwater ambience conjured by keyboards, tastefully unobtrusive piano and drums, and thick, driving bass lines framing the singer’s evocations of love lost, maintained, and fallen into.

Searching for something good, I also looked up some archive reviews of Love Deluxe and was truck by the Chicago Tribune’s tribute. Did I say tribute? Oh, I meant trashing.

“Sade’s brand of aural wallpaper has become even more transparent since the release of her last album, Stronger Than Pride, in 1988. On past efforts, she made the most of her limited voice, but here her emotional reach seems equally narrow. Whether she’s singing about love (most of the time) or unemployment, she sounds only mildly interested. Ambiance is emphasised and the melodies are never less than pleasant; saxophone, piano and gentle percussion evoke The Girl From Ipanema era of Brazilian pop. Before purchasing, try this in-store listening test: Select any two tracks at random and try to distinguish them. Chances are most listeners won’t be able to. Others may not care-in which case, it’s time to go home with CD in hand, turn down the stereo and break out the wine and cheese.”

Strange, but they said nothing about a mermaid. Me? And I’m looking for the real McCoy. Still. 

Happy birthday Sade Adu.

Steve Pafford

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