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.