This week, I finally bought some new CDs. I originally wanted to get them for my car, but I was just so excited to get the new music that I went ahead and listened to them on my own.
First: The new Sade album.
I bought this album only on the strength of the title track* alone, which I thought was a radical departure from the typical Sade fare. But I was already hooked as soon as I heard the first bars of "The Moon and The Sky," and didn't let go until the last track.
As usual, the lovely Sade Adu has one of the richest voices on the planet, and her backing band (who perform under the name Sweetback when they're not working with her) are aces in cooking up excellent instrumentation... but this time, the combination is so potent that I had to ask myself if I was listening to a Sade album. There's practically no slack here; even when Sade's voice is at her most mournful and/or the arrangements begin to start sounding like Norah Jones (don't get me wrong - I like Norah, but you know what I mean here), it didn't stop me from tuning out altogether. What really gets to me here is the songwriting; some of the lyrics, especially on "Skin" and "The Safest Place," stand out in sharp contrast - to great effect - next to the music itself. This is one of those albums that you really need to sit down and listen to more than once; it's definitely an album for grownups.
*A note here: I don't have a link to the actual video for "Soldier of Love," due to copyright restrictions preventing me from linking it through YouTube. But if you've seen it, there's a couple of things I'd like to talk about: 1) Does Sade ever age at all? Seriously, this is the best she's ever looked, and the woman just had her 50th birthday; and 2) Doesn't the choreography of the dancers remind you of "The Drill" from This Is It? I know that Fatima Robinson did the choreography, but I swear that I had to do a double-take between that video and the Cebu prison inmates' version of "They Don't Really Care About Us," down to the one dancer who looked like This Is It's Daniel Celebre. Between that and the reference to "Michael back in the day" from "Skin," I'd say that there's some nifty cross-referencing between Sade and Michael Jackson here.
And then there's Alicia Keys...
Let's face it - there's no comparison here. Alicia Keys can only wish that she could grow up to be half as awesome as Sade. Next to Soldier of Love, some of the lyrics on The Element of Freedom sound pretty juvenile. (Really, now: "Like the Sea" would've sounded, like, so deep to my proto-emo teen self back in the early Nineties.) Before this album was released, I've already been complaining to everyone I know that A.'s voice has been sounding rough and pitchy as of late - even when she's singing the hook to "Empire State of Mind," she still sounded like she needed a lozenge or three.
That still didn't stop me from enjoying this-here album, though. True, I still think Alicia needs to give her upper register a break - especially since she sings best when she goes for the lower range - but here she's backed up with stronger arrangements - the better to enhance a lot of the strong soul influences from the '70s and '80s that inform the rest of the album. Girlfriend knows her way around a pop hook like nobody's business, too - just listen to "Wait Til You See My Smile" or "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)" and see if you don't catch yourself humming it later - and she even keeps Beyonce in check on "Put It In a Love Song," which gets most of its power from the Brazilian-flavored arrangement anyway. Recommended for those moments when you could really use a pick-me-up from an especially tiring day.