Sade, a Smooth Operator, sings of No Ordinary Love, and Is That A Crime?
Somebody already broke my heart.” These seem to be simple sentiments and sometimes, not always, simple songs, but the feelings and attitudes they convey—despair, fear, devoted love, friendship, and understanding—have the largest place to play in human life; and the songs I’ve quoted thus far require one’s whole attention while listening.
“All About Our Love” is an affirmation of love. “Whatever may come, we can get through it,” is one line, and though reassuring, it does not, in this case, carry any more weight than it would in life. That may say something about the transparency of Adu’s lyrics.
Sade Adu sings in “Slave Song” the lines “I pray to the Almighty let me not to him do as he has unto me. Teach my beloved children who have been enslaved to reach for the light continually” over an almost stuttering rhythm, an almost tribal beat, possibly a form of syncopation. That does not seem merely noble sentiment, but a lurking knowledge that one can easily become vengeful, destructive, ruining not simply an enemy but one’s self.
However, when the singer has a conversation with the moon in which she asks the moon to keep her beloved safe in “The Sweetest Gift” the image is at once timeless and a bit too much. (I have read that the song is a lullaby for her daughter, a fact that may qualify, or disqualify, my reservation.) An interesting though not unpredictable aspect of Adu’s lyrics—and vision—is how often the innocence of a human spirit embodied in a word or gesture is followed by the world’s (or just one man’s) betrayal of that spirit, as when in “Every Word” Adu sings, “All the time you were smiling the same smile, I was loving you like a child. I really trusted you. Every word you said, every word you said. Love is what the word was.” One may more expect betrayal in politics, in the move from one nation to another, in the jostling of one group against another. “Immigrant,” written by Adu with Janusz Podrazik, describes an immigrant who has not been welcomed: “He didn’t know what it was to be black ‘til they gave him his change but didn’t want to touch his hand. To even the toughest among us that would be too much.” I find those two lines striking whenever I hear them. I imagine the scene, remember similar scenes in my own life in my native country, the United States of America, and think that those lines and others in the song capture not only the failure to live up to our full humanity but also a betrayal of the often spouted Christianity: “He was turned away from every door like Joseph,” and “The secret of their fear and their suspicion standing there looking like an angel, in his brown shoes, his short suit, his white shirt, and his cuffs a little frayed. Coming from where he did, he was such a dignified child.”
The title song “Lovers Rock” seems to be more about the spirit of music itself (the urge to create, connect, or express love?), rather than an ordinary personal acquaintance: “I am in the wilderness. You are in the music in the man’s car next to me. Somewhere in my sadness I know I won’t fall apart completely, and in all this, and in all my life, you are the lovers’ rock, the rock that I cling to.”
The last song on Lovers Rock is “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through,” also written by Adu and Podrazik, and it’s about a young woman who has gone through hard times while still managing to love. “You know tenderness comes from pain. It’s amazing how you love,” sings Adu.
Lovers Rock is a good album, but, musically, I thought Sade’s Love Deluxe (1992, Epic/Sony), the preceding studio album of new material, was an interesting development. The band’s jazz and rock influences were evident in Love Deluxe, but there was also a new tautness in its sound, almost a tension, but certainly a perceptible strength. However, the lyrics of Love Deluxe weren’t always as impressive or surprising as those on Diamond Life (1985, Portrait/CBS, though released in 1984 in Britain), Promise (1985, Portrait/CBS), or even Lovers Rock. (I always thought 1988’s Stronger Than Pride on CBS was the band’s weakest album; and I haven’t yet heard all of its’ recent live album, Lovers Live, 2002, Epic/Sony, though what I heard seemed similar to the studio versions of the songs.)