I find it interesting that Maxwell and Sade released albums within a few months of each other. I can't say that Maxwell and Sade are exactly alike from a stylistic standpoint. Maxwell is the quintessential soul balladeer. And while Sade can get romantic with the best of them - witness torch songs such as "Is It a Crime," "Love is Stronger than Pride," and jazzy mid-tempo tunes like "You Love is King" and "Paradise" - Sade is also known for her introspective songs and her brooding works of social commentary such as "Immigrant" and "Feel No Pain."
Sade and Maxwell are similar in terms of their status within the music industry. For one thing, both can take long hiatuses and emerge none the worse for wear. Both released well-received albums in the first years of the 21st Century, and then seemed to disappear. In the case of Maxwell, absence made the heart grow fonder as his popularly and critically acclaimed Black Summer's Night earned him Grammy awards. Radio is embracing the title track from Sade's Soldier of Love album, which drops on Feb. 9.
Sade and Maxwell are artists who go by their schedules and follow set their own trends, and one thing that can be said about Soldier of Love is that it is a very self-confident album. Sade eschews many of the conventions of modern R&B. That's not really a surprise because nobody expects Sade go all autotune on us. And when you have a backing band as good as Sweetback, what's the point of going heavy on the technology?
Still, Sade has moved further along the musical path that she started traveling with the release of 1992s Love Deluxe. The songs on Soldier of Love have become more introspective, the themes darker. An example is the album's title track - a song that squarely addresses the fact that love is a dangerous game, and those who play are apt to get scarred. Many people deride R&B's laser like focus on affairs of the heart by saying the genre and its artists are living in pheromone driven fantasyland. However, a look at the headlines proves love's landscape is filled with minefields that people find impossible to avoid. Viewed in that prism, "Soldier of Love" is as relevant as Reheem DeVaughn's "Bulletproof."
Thematically, the songs on Soldier of Love speak of a wisdom borne of the struggle to find love and contentment. Sade is girded for the fight. Vocally, Sade has never sounded better. In "Long Hard Road," the Sade vocally fuses longing and weariness with the determination to keep searching for whatever she is looking for. By the end of the record, the listener realizes that Sade just wants to find security. The record closes with "The Safest Place," in which the Soldier of Love talks about finding security in the heart of her lover.
Critics hailed Lover's Rock, Sade's last album. However, some fans thought that record was too dark and depressing. I didn't agree when that criticism was directed at Lover's Rock, and I don't agree with it now. Sade is following her own muse, and she is challenging her fans to take the journey with her. Soldier of Love is a grown up record that will be best appreciated by those who have spent a little while on their own journeys. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes
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