Diamond Life

Diamond Life cover
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Diamond Life

[ Epic Records / CD ]

Release Date: Tuesday 29 January 2008

'Diamond Life' is Sade's dazzling debut album, which was originally released in 1984 and features super numbers, such as "Smooth Operator" and "Your Love is King".

In 1984, while British new romantics like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet filled arenas with enormous synth-pop, Sade became the minimalists, crafting quiet, vintage soul out of basic components. Their end product, Diamond Life, values brevity. The band had a weapon in lead singer Helen Folasade Adu-Sade for short-a modest contralto who wore hoops with a classic red lip and moved in silence like Carmen Sandiego.

Despite early comparisons to the likes of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, Sade, then 25, saw not jazz but Black American soul as her band's core influence. "I'm frightened of anyone for one minute thinking that we're trying to be a jazz band, because if we were, we could do it a lot better than we're doing now," Sade said in 1985. "Our music is clearly pop, because it's easy to understand."

More precisely, their sound liquified soul and jazz into new-school pop. They were executors of spaciousness. With Diamond Life, Sade produced feeling music that became a prototype for a generation of singers who favored naked elegance: D'Angelo, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys. Maxwell later borrowed guitarist, saxophonist, and co-writer Stuart Matthewman for his own immaculate 1996 debut Urban Hang Suite; and Drake once equated the "dark sexy feel" of Sade's records to those on his mixtape So Far Gone. The seductive undertones of artists like Tinashe and Yuna are similarly tethered to Sade, whose fierce dashes of sensuality originated here.

Over nine tracks, Sade sings of unwanted separation and missed connections under the banner of "quiet storm" music, the nickname for mood-setting, after-hours R&B that powered adult contemporary radio. Washington's WHUR-FM is said to have originated the format in 1976 in response to radio programming that featured predominantly white easy listening acts. Quiet storm was, in contrast, a platform for balladeers like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross and their mellow grade of soul. For Sade, a band that conveyed turbulence even in their subtlety, the label fit.

The swagger of "Smooth Operator," their breakout U.S. single, almost overshadows the fact that the subject's task is to travel across state lines breaking hearts. Their album, for the most part, seeks out and cherishes serenity and stability in partnerships while acknowledging the rocky parts. Lead U.S. single "Hang On to Your Love," a stylish, midtempo number, views commitment as a courageous act, and on "Your Love Is King," Sade drags out her prose, praising ordinary love between the exhales of a sax. The song has all the romance of a shimmering sunset gondola ride.
9.4 / 10 (20th Anniversary review via Pitchfork)


1. Smooth Operator (Sade/Saint John) - 4:57
2. Your Love Is King (Adu/Matthewman) - 3:41
3. Hang on to Your Love (Adu/Matthewman) - 5:55
4. Frankie's First Affair (Adu/Matthewman) - 4:39
5. When Am I Going to Make a Living (Adu/Matthewman) - 3:27
6. Cherry Pie (Adu/Denman/Hale/Matthewman) - 6:20
7. Sally (Adu/Denman/Hale/Matthewman) - 5:23
8. I Will Be Your Friend (Adu/Matthewman) - 4:45
9. Why Can't We Live Together (Thomas) - 5:28