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Sade: The Ultimate Collection
Singing ever since the eighties, Sade’s voice melts this reviewer’s heart like warm butter. It’s a sign of a true musician that Nigerian-English singer Sade Adu and her band have endured three decades of the music business and continue to produce smooth, delicious jazz-influenced r&b/pop music.
Just one year after their six studio album Soldier of Love (their first album to contain new songs in almost ten years), Sade are back with The Ultimate Collection, their second greatest hits compilation, following the 1994 Best of. Released this May, the 29-track, two-disc album is testament to Sade’s extensive and impressive music career, containing many classics from the eighties and nineties such as restaurant and elevator favourites ‘Smooth Operator’ and 'No Ordinary Love '. The album also contains four new songs: ‘Love Is Found’, ‘I Would Never Have Guessed’, a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Still in Love With You’ as well as a remix of ‘The Moon and The Sky’ that oddly features Jay-Z.
This is definitely an album that Sade fans will appreciate, with careful re-mastering of all the obvious hits, such as ‘Jezebel’, ‘Pearl’ and ‘Immigrant’, which in this reviewer’s opinion, are three of her most underrated and genius songs. It’s also interesting to note that lead singer Adu co-wrote every single song on the album except for the Thin Lizzy cover ‘Still in Love With You', which Sade sings with her trademark vulnerability, backed by a simple acoustic guitar and background choir vocals.
'The Moon and The Sky' Remix featuring
Jay-Z is one of the few songs that doesn’t really work for this reviewer: the
original track itself is quite powerful, but the remixed beat combined with
Jay-Z’s hard rapping vocals feels like a weak attempt to be trendy at the
expense of Sade’s smooth sophistication. The combination of Jay-Z’s toughness
with her delicate vocals just doesn’t seem right to us.
‘By Your Side (Neptunes Remix)’ takes a perfectly great Sade song and adds the Neptunes’ trademark beats and synths to it. It’s an easily forgettable song, and thankfully the original ‘By Your Side’ is on the compilation; so skip to that and erase the former from your memory.
‘I Would Never Have Guessed’ is a haunting
track backed by a hallow piano tune and a single backing vocal, as Sade does
what she does best: tear at our heartstrings delicately with her magnificent
Hands down, ‘Love is Found’ is the best new track, with a stirring orchestral intro that bursts suddenly into a heavy beat backed by an electrical guitar, bass and hand-claps that juxtapose nicely with her sweet, soft vocals. This is the track that we have on repeat all day long, and should definitely be one of the album’s hit singles.
How this band has lasted for three decades without world domination remains a total mystery to this reviewer; but then again, their timeless style and sophistication has helped them transition into the new decade seamlessly where other eighties bands like Duran Duran have crashed and burned a long time ago.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when it's time for reflection; time to escape the rat race and go back to basics. Usually, this time is spent at some desolate place, like a cabin in the woods or some far away beach on a desert island; somewhere one can fully recharge and shift their focus back to what’s really important.
English singer-songwriter, Ed Harcourt, seems to have done just that on his new record Back into the Woods. But instead of a cabin in the woods or a tropical beach resort, Harcourt went back to basics at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The nine songs were written in a month and recorded in just six hours.
The end result is melancholic, but utterly beautiful, in all its naked simplicity. There’s a piano, an electric guitar and his wife on the violin, but that is all Harcourt has taken with him to create this record. The use of dubbed vocals on a handful of tracks, and an organ beefing up the bare framework of the song ‘Brothers and Sisters’, is as frivolous as this album gets.
It seems Harcourt returning to basics has paved the way for some lyrical introspection, as well. “You’ve got the good bits from your mother and the bad parts from me” and “pay no heed to good advice” he sings to his daughter on ‘Hey Little Bruiser’. He serenades his wife on ‘Wandering Eye’ as he muses, “I remember when I first saw you/I couldn’t move I was paralysed,” and on ‘The Pretty Girls’ he states “I always feel like the monster in this fairy tale."
In ‘The Cusp and the Wane’ the singer-songwriter tells us that Mozart died a pauper and that William Blake was ridiculed. “Let’s hear it for the underdog,” he sings – he might as well be singing about himself.
It’s always been a bit of a mystery how Jeff Buckley-esque singers and songwriters, such as Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice, have managed to amass huge fan followings over the years, yet Harcourt still operates under the radar of the general music-loving audience.
It’s not like he hasn’t got the talent. Harcourt’s oeuvre is littered with brilliant compositions, most notably on the Mercury Prize nominated' Here Be Monsters (2001), The Beautiful Lie (2006) and Lustre (2010). They can certainly compete with the musical accomplishments of the likes of Rice, Wainwright and even Buckley, yet somehow, until now, Harcourt has failed to get as much attention. And that’s a real shame.
So here’s a free tip if you’re into singer-songwriters (especially the aforementioned ones): do yourself a favour and buy not only Back into the Woods, but Harcourt’s entire seven album discography. You won’t regret it.