The brilliant title track of Sade's "Soldier of Love" (Epic) was practically a seismic shift in the band's 25-year history, with its hip-hop elements and almost timely production.
Could the notoriously unflinching Sade somehow have been swayed by more current musical concerns? Was it possible that Sade's new album - her first since 2000's "Lovers Rock" - somehow sounds like something other than a Sade album? Of course not.
At her worst, Sade makes first-rate cocktail party music, stylish aural wallpaper that conjures a certain mood, more than a specific time or place. At her best, though, Sade can be breathtaking, wrapping pain in a steely resolve and a nonchalant exterior, communicating complexities while stripping away extraneous musical layers and emotions.
"Soldier of Love" has a few more breathtaking moments to add to the collection, after the stunning title track, which finds the band at its most defiant. "Babyfather" takes practically the opposite tack, a breathy bit of island-kissed sweetness that also explains to a child how her parents met and split. "Skin" feels even simpler, with its laid-back vibe and a groove that would suit Maxwell.
Sade, the band - which includes Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Denman as well as singer Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade - does one thing exceedingly well and sticks to it. It's no accident its sound helped launch the '80s British R&B revival and the American neo-soul movement of the '90s. No telling what "Soldier of Love" could spark for the new decade.
"Soldier of Love"
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Sleek, timeless jazz-tinged pop