One of the most interesting things about the pop jazz movement of the ’80s was that it was almost completely a British thing. Sure there was the Likes of Kenny G, but that was a different strain of pop jazz that fit more comfortably in the easy listening category. It was almost as if Americans were ignorant of their own rich jazz heritage as to ignore it.
English acts like Everything But The Girl, The Style Council and Johnny Hates Jazz popularized the genre in the first half of the decade, but by the end they were all but gone or had moved on to greener pastures. Many had simply folded as musical tastes moved to the Kenny G’s and Michael Bublé’s of the world.
One of the sole survivors was Sade. Sade is a singer whose band called Sweetback performs under the name of Sade. The band takes its name from lead vocalist Sade Adu but was known formally as Pride in their London Jazz club days (they recorded two albums as Sweetback without Adu – is that confusing enough?). After two albums of polite, passionless easy listening jazz as Sade, they had become the #1 voice of soft restraint in easy listening from England.
The same polished style and easy going approach that made Diamond Life and Promise multi-platinum recordings also made them boring to listen to on some levels. Sade’s music often seemed like something to hear in a doctor’s office or department store rather than something you would listen to carefully.
That would change with the their third release Stronger Than Pride. Recorded in France and The Bahamas, Sade seemed to let go and relax. No longer was the music so ridged and upright, it had become as relaxed as a stroll on the beach. While the beach seemed like an ongoing theme based on the cover art, my associations centered around my air condition free apartment at the time. The mid to slow tempo music was just engaging enough to relax to with wind from the open windows putting me to sleep by the time the CD player reached track 7.
The cover photo suggested a vacationing Sade at ease with the wealth from previous recordings and willing to face the consequences of it. In that vein many of the songs dipped into familial lyrical territory, but Sades voice had become more nuanced as to suggest a new found passion for the subject matter.
It was the most casual and care free of Sade’s recordings to date. Despite the loosened up style, there was still plenty of familiar traditional jazz arrangements to keep things Sade-like. Instrumental moments like in ‘Siempre Hay Esperanza’ were accompanied only by repeated courses. A small degree of electronics were brought into the mix, but in ever so subtle ways as to keep Love Is Stronger Than Pride sounding timeless.
The title song, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Nothing Can Come Between Us’ all charted to make Stronger Than Pride their third double platinum album. One of my personal favorites from the album was ‘Keep Looking’. It had all the elements of a perfect R&B song with jazz elements thrown in. That may be why it and the R&B chart topping ‘Paradise’ were played often on many urban radio stations.
Always the crowd pleaser, Sade found loyal fans in a wide cross section of listeners from the hard to reach (for English artist) American R&B community to fans of adult contemporary music. It never hurt that Sade and her backing band were an accomplished (and popular) live act.
About the only people who did not like Sade were jazz purist (they hated Kenny G even more). Sade had outlived the relevance of the British pop jazz movement by not rattling too many cages. The unpretentious sound evolved slowly while attracting new fans. Even as of this writing only with six albums recorded over a 30+ year period, the band’s sound is still familiar and as pleasant and non offensive as ever.
If you ever wondered what Sade would sound like with a bit more more passion and funk, her backing band might have an answer. On its first 1996 release, Sweetback featured guest vocals from Maxwell, Amel Larrieux and others.