Sade, a Smooth Operator, sings of No Ordinary Love, and Is That A Crime?
The Best of Sade (1994, Epic/Sony) has “Your Love Is King,” with the lines, “Your love is king. I crown you in my heart,” and “Hang On To Your Love,” with the lines, “Gotta stick together, hand in glove, hold tight, don’t fight, hang on to your love,” and “Smooth Operator,” the song about an international lover who lives a “diamond life.” Also on The Best of Sade : “Jezebel,” a moody ballad, with gorgeously serpentine saxophone playing, is about a girl born with few social assets other than physical appeal, who “when she learned how to walk, she learned to bring the house down.” She seems to do questionable things for money and new dresses. Adu’s line readings of “Jezebel” are careful, incisive, both sympathetic and tough as she mimes the character’s dimensions. “The Sweetest Taboo,” is a joyous song, light, up-tempo, about love: “...If I tell you how I feel, will you keep bringing out the best in me?...You give me, you’re giving me the sweetest taboo, too good for me...There’s a quiet storm, that is you...” and “every day is Christmas, and every night is New Year’s Eve.” “Is It A Crime?” is a torchy ballad, beautifully written and performed, moving from detail to detail in language and voice as a woman considers her recent lover’s new relationship. Adu sings, “Is it a crime that I still want you, and I want you to want me too? My love is wider, wider than Victoria Lake. My love is taller, taller than the Empire State. It dives and it jumps and it ripples like the deepest ocean. I can’t give you more than that. Surely you want me back? Is it a crime?”
Good times come and go, and life, “it’s like the weather, one day chicken, next day feathers. The rose we remember, the thorns we forget. We love and we leave, we never spend a minute on regret. It’s a possibility, the more we know the less we see,” sings Adu in “Never As Good As The First Time,” a rather brave and witty song for the band’s second album. The lyrics of the song capture youthful resilience, which is very different from the singer’s crying, “somebody already broke my heart, be careful and be kind.”
“I won’t hate you, though I have tried. I still really really love you. Love is stronger than pride,” Adu sings on the honest and even wise “Love Is Stronger Than Pride.” She goes further: “I won’t pretend that I intend to stop living. I won’t pretend I’m good at forgiving but I can’t hate you, although I have tried. I still really really love you. Love is stronger than pride.” And this is a terrific detail: “Waiting for you would be like waiting for winter. It’s going to be cold—there may even be snow.”
I think “Paradise” and “Nothing Can Come Between Us” are two of the weakest songs on the Best Of album; they are good intentions about good intentions. And “No Ordinary Love”—with the lyrics, “I keep crying. I keep trying for you, there’s nothing like you and I baby. This is no ordinary love”—is a song I like, I like the idea of no ordinary love, but the lyrics do not convince despite the singer’s insistence. (There are no persuasive metaphors or details.) “Like a Tattoo,” written by Adu with Hale and Matthewman, has more imaginative language—about love and deception, sun and a distant river, age and youth—but I don’t think it’s a truly remarkable song, though the idea of shame worn like a tattoo is not uninteresting, and the music’s piano and guitar stylings remind me of music from Spain. Oh, maybe it is remarkable.
“Look at the sky, it’s the color of love,” and “you gave me the kiss of life,” Adu sings in “Kiss of Life,” unfortunately another good concept without much illustration. “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” a prayer for the well-being of mankind that includes a personal wish for a lover is a thoroughly winning song; a slow dance song, it sounds sweet and old-fashioned and it charms. “You show me how good love can be” is a line from “Cherish the Day,” a song of commitment, and when I hear Adu sing the line I believe it, but when I think about the line I doubt it. Thinking about the weaker songs in her oeuvre, it’s clear to me that Adu’s voice—low, a little rough, warm, sincere—is the element that can determine whether a recording, rather than a song (a song is lyrics and music—form, not merely sound), will be deemed good or not, pleasing or not.
“Pearls,” written by Adu and Hale, from Love Deluxe and the last song on The Best Of Sade, is one the band’s masterful songs: it’s a drama featuring a Somalian woman “scraping for pearls on the roadside”; and the lyrics compare the Somalian woman’s state (“she cries to the heaven above, there is a stone in my heart”) to the pain of new shoes, an intentionally inadequate contrast, a way of saying there’s little in a comfortable western life, and in Sade Adu’s life, that compares to such fundamental need. The “pearls” the woman searches for on a roadside for her little girl seem to be fallen grains of rice. (The year before Love Deluxe ’s release, in 1991, Angelique Kidjo’s album Logozo, on Mango/Island Records, had a song on it, “Kaleta,” that presaged “Pearls.” Written by Kidjo and Jean Hebrail, “Kaleta,” said, “You who watch me from above, you who remain indifferent before the children who are killed, remember that you are not immortal. For he who remains silent before the misery of our children should not forget that suffering and death spare no one.”) In “Pearls” the Somalian woman “lives in a world she didn’t choose and it hurts like brand new shoes.” Isn’t choice the essence of freedom? Some of us work hard to have choices; and we convince ourselves we have choices even when circumstances deny them. We insist on the ability to choose our own attitudes to dire circumstances if all other choices are gone. Most importantly, with this song, as with others, it is easy to see that Sade Adu extends to people very different from herself a friendship, love, and sympathy similar to that she feels for her intimate acquaintances, making inequality of wealth, making politics, deeply humane, intelligent, and a fit subject for art. Of course, it was Auden who noted in his “Musee des Beaux Arts” that artists have long known that suffering takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; many may know, but not all show. Sade Adu, Andrew Hale, Stuart Matthewman, and Paul S. Denman, and the musicians and producers who have helped to produce their songs, have been creative and more: they have been transformative, transforming passions into believable stories and also the facts of common lives into ideas and images that are hard to forget, something requiring no ordinary love.
Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, The City Sun, CompulsiveReader.com, IdentityTheory.com, Option, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 24FramesPerSecond.com, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. ( Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, an online magazine, is scheduled to publish some of his creative work.)