Soldier of Love (Sony)
Sade was neo-soul before soul knew it needed a neo. Smooth, classy, just a little funky, but not too much—her music was R&B for the middle-aged who wanted to get their groove on (gently) without having to put a drape over their Billie Holiday records. All of which is to say that Sade makes even more sense as a 50-year-old exercise in nostalgia than she did as a brash, young exercise in nostalgia way back when. The music on Soldier of Love, played by the same band Sade has used since 1983, still alternates between sedate and more sedate; her voice still slides with deft precision into that sensuously bland sweet spot between soul and jazz.
If anything, Soldier of Love actually sounds more Sade than her early records. Her deep voice is a touch deeper; the immaculate contemporary production adds tasteful hip-hop to her other tasteful influences, and you realize that it should have been there all along. In "Soldier of Love," scratching echoes the snare drum, and both are fused into a darkly hooky, shoulder-shrugging rhythm that manages to sound both like last week's radio hit and like every Sade record ever. Similarly, "Babyfather" nods to contemporary slang in order to deliver a paen to parenthood that would make Bill Cosby light a candle."Be That Easy," on the other hand, makes no concessions to the present; it's just Sade like she's always been, singing vaguely inspirational lyrics at slow, slow tempos, her voice and the melody wrapping about each other with unhurried languor. "It couldn't be that easy/It had to be much harder," she sings with no discernable effort. There aren't many pop stars out there still active after a quarter of a century who aren't, to one extent or another, embarrassing themselves. It's a tribute to Sade that she seems like she'll still be simultaneously relevant and backward-looking, and still on the charts, when she's 75.