Sade – Love Deluxe

In 1992, the musical landscape appeared to be suffering from a mild case of schizophrenia. Where there had once been clear and defined lines separating music genres from one another, those lines began to blur at an unprecedented rate as R&B, hip-hop, rock, jazz and even country began bleeding into one another and garnering crossover success in the process. 

Seminal releases by the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Mary J. Blige, TLC, Dr. Dre and R.E.M.  crowded the airwaves and music charts. As music began taking on a more experimental approach, one release in particular had no trouble standing out amongst the ever growing list of releases—Sade’s fourth studio album, Love Deluxe. In the midst of the cacophonous sea of sounds that were spilling forth in the name of grunge, electronica, New Jack Swing and everything in between, Love Deluxe provided a bed of comfort and familiarity. Much like the previous work from this British band, Sade’s fourth album was filled with atmospheric sounds mixed with a hint of the mysteriousness that had made the group an international success dating back to their 1984 debut, Diamond Life. 

However, a closer listen to Love Deluxe would reveal that the album did mark a turning point for the band that consisted of lead singer Sade Adu, guitarist and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, bassist Paul S. Denman and keyboardist Andrew Hale. For a group of musicians that had built its brand up on crafting understated and brooding music, it’s not farfetched to assume that their venture into new territory would be ever so slight. 

Even though it had always been difficult to neatly package the Sade’s sound into one category, the genre they became closest associated with was jazz, perhaps due in part to Matthewman’s saxophone riffs that often lent color to songs such as Promise’s “Is It A Crime.” Despite the hard lean into jazz territory, other influences could be often be uncovered like the sounds of bossa nova carefully woven into the fibers of Diamond Life’s “Smooth Operator.” Perhaps the best description of the type of music brought forth by Sade would be to call it world music, a title that though broad, best encompasses Love Deluxe

“Feel No Pain,” the second single release from Love Deluxe, bears the traces of Africa, with its hypnotic drums as she paints a portrait of a family’s struggle with unemployment, poverty and pride. The slow and steady thump of the drums provides the perfect canvas to portray the combative nature of fighting for survival, she warns of impending doom if situations don’t improve (“One day we’re gonna wake up and with the ghetto’s all around/All over my friend/Have you ever seen a man break down?”) The accompanying video was equally stark as the lead singer and her longtime backing vocalist Leroy Osbourne are seen in the barren desert. 

Equally as grave in both content and musical composition is “Pearls,” a solemn tale of a Somalian woman’s struggles. The violin and cello-driven song offers a near-classical performance that is juxtaposed by Adu’s wails of “Hallelujah!” towards the end, a cry that is as close to gospel that the traditionally-restrained vocalist gets and jars listeners out of their somber reverie. Matters of the heart were treated with the same glum outlook as “Like A Tattoo” feels equally as plaintive as Adu wails across a melancholic guitar that wavers somewhere between Spanish classical and American blues.

In the midst of all of her doom and gloom, Sade still found the time to exalt in power of love. To this day, “Kiss of Life” remains a venerable love song, kept alive by timeless proclamations like, “When I led to you, I knew you were the one for me/I swear the whole world could feel my heartbeat.” While a much of the band’s success relied on Adu’s voice, much of it can be attributed to the musicianship of Matthewman, Denman and Hale, who perfected the art of telling a story with just music alone. Songs like the album’s lead single, “No Ordinary Love” actually feel as if the listener is submerged in water, much like the lovelorn mermaid Adu portrays the video. 

Speaking of those videos, Love Deluxe also marked a transition in how fans were able to view the singer. Whereas past videos always featured Adu with her sleek, tightly-constrained ponytail and signature red lipstick, the videos for “No Ordinary Love,” “Feel No Pain,” “Kiss of Life” and “Cherish the Day” each featured the singer with her long hair billowing in the wind, her lips decidedly absent of lipstick. For the first time, fans were able to literally see her “let her hair down,” a stark contrast to the decidedly detached and sometimes downright iciness found in her delivery. It allowed her to appear just the slightest bit more accessible, despite the fact that we knew that she would never completely pull back the curtain of her carefully constructed façade. 

At the time of the album’s release, reviews were mixed. Many felt that it had strayed too far away from the lush, ambient sounds heard on their earlier works. Still, others felt that it had not far drifted enough from the original formula. However as with most things, the best judge is the test of time. The first hint of the Love Deluxe’s longevity came two years after its release when Sade took home a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1994 for “No Ordinary Love.”  To date the album has sold over four million copies. 

As the years have worn on, songs such as “Kiss of Life,” “No Ordinary Love” and “I Couldn’t Love You More” have certainly passed that test, remaining in rotation on many adult R&B radio stations while also inspiring covers by the likes of Richard Marx, The Deftones and the Rosebuds, who decided to cover the entire album in honor of the 20th anniversary of its release.  Meanwhile, “Feel No Pain” feels just as timely as the economy still struggles to rebound from the recent recession, making it easy to wonder if the band had the foresight then to know that such issues would still prevail 22 years after Love Deluxe’s release. One thing is certain, however; by leading with their heart and intuition, Ms. Adu and company have quietly provided a timeless classic that will likely continue to reach out to the world for another 22 years more.  

Ivory M. Jones,, Billboard, BET