Admittedly, I moved away from vinyl records years ago. While I loved their warm sound as well as the excitement of perusing the cover art, album lyrics, and hidden dedications, the lure of MP3s was too much to resist. My crates full of LPs had taken over my bedroom and basement, collecting dust. So listening to Audio Fidelity’s remastered, 180 + virgin vinyl pressing of Sade’s 1984 breakthrough Diamond Life is like visiting an old friend in two ways: first, it allows for fresh appreciation of her still-stunning debut; and second, its fuller sound reminds the listener of the glory days of vinyl LPs.
Sade has ruled the charts for so long, it’s hard to imagine now that she was a breath of fresh air when she burst on the scene in the mid-80s. In the midst of Duran Duran, the beginnings of “hair metal,” and synthesized pop came this exotic figure who performed understated and sophisticated soul with just a hint of jazz. The debut single, “Smooth Operator,” announced a unique talent whose sultry image and subtle voice would appeal to young and old, across racial and gender lines.
Hearing Diamond Life in 2012, it’s interesting to note just how many of its tracks receive continued airplay. The aforementioned “Smooth Operator” crackles with its crisp percussion and Sade’s coy vocal stylings, her voice dancing over lines such as “no need to ask.” “Your Love Is King” stands as breezy soul, while “Hang on to Your Love” increases the tempo slightly, its heavier beat never overshadowing Sade’s cool vocals: “Gotta stick together, hand in glove/ Hold tight, don’t fight/ Hang on to your love,” she croons, easily matching the rhythm.
Audio Fidelity’s remaster should also spark renewed interest in some unjustly forgotten album tracks. “Cherry Pie,” which Sade rarely performs live, shows her ability to sing uptempo tunes as well as her signature ballads. As always, her band’s arrangements are impeccable; listen to this vinyl version carefully to fully appreciate just how much is going on behind Sade’s voice. The slow burner “Sally” features sax player Stuart Matthewman’s searing solos while Sade belts out the lyrics with deep emotion. “She’s doing our dirty work/ She’s the only one who cares,” she wails. Think of “Sally” as the warmup for her classic torch song “Is It A Crime?” which she would debut on her next release, Promise.
Other standouts include “When Am I Going to Make A Living”; when Sade sings the final line “We’re hungry but we won’t give in,” listeners believe every word. Her sensual cover of Tommy Thomas’ 1972 classic “Why Can’t We Live Together,” manages to transform the song into an unlikely “quiet storm” ballad without neglecting the song’s essential percussion.
Wisely, Sade and her band avoided synthesizers or electronic drums, thus ensuring Diamond Life’s timeless quality. Indeed, the 1984 LP could have been recorded today, as its songs have not aged one bit. Audio Fidelity’s remastering has rendered the LP what could be termed “not your grandparents’ vinyl.” The sound is clearer than any of the thinner LPs of earlier generations, and instruments such as Paul S. Denman’s bass jump to the forefront, allowing the listener to fully experience how each instrument is arranged and played to perfectly compliment Sade’s laid back style.
Stereophiles will surely appreciate this limited-edition version of a classic album, and Sade fans should enjoy reliving the moment when the singer first appeared in the public’s consciousness. It also serves as an example of how a debut album can avoid instant obscurity due to quality material and thoughtful execution.