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soldiers of love
prodigal songstresses corinne bailey rae & sade offer different takes on post-relationship struggles
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

Corinne Bailey Rae’s accomplished second studio album, The Sea, is not just an album about loss. Although all sad songs don’t have to be sad (see Allen, Lily), the album’s unwillingness to do the expected is remarkable.

Since her album was recorded within a two year radius of the sudden death of her husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, and given her previously melancholy leanings, it was easy to imagine this album might be in the vein of Beck’s magnificent, somber (and similarly titled) Sea Change, also about a long relationship that ended in heartbreak.

Perhaps her delay in recording made the difference. Instead, we are treated to a more panoramic view of relationships and loss, as well as her prodigious growth as a singer and songwriter.

The first single, “I’d Do It All Again” – like many songs on The Sea – starts soft, then ascends to pack a wallop midway through. Uniquely, we only hear the hook once, as though she put her all into the first confession and didn’t have the strength to repeat herself. Lesser artists wouldn’t have the balls. It works.

She rocks out on “The Blackest Lily,” managing – in a way that is uncommon nowadays – to be both pop and funky, not unlike The Beatles’ “Glass Onion.” For those who had a hard time contrasting her willowy debut with the knowledge that she had begun her career in a female rock group called Helen, she offers the deceptively edgy “Diving Hearts.” After getting in touch with her R&B roots on the seductive, Marvin Gaye circa ’76 “Closer,” she goes ‘80s pop on you fools with “Paris Nights/New York Mornings.”

And still none of this prepares you for “Love’s On Its Way,” the song where she most uses her voice as an instrument. The universal, again, stems from the specific, as her heartfelt plea for love seems to say as much about the turmoil in our world as it does, presumably, about the turmoil in her heart.

So don't you stand there wishing your life would fade away, she sings on the title track, and don't you go round with anyone who makes you feel ashamed. Hard learned advice yes, but sage and true, not unlike this record. If anyone makes a better one in 2010, it will be surprising.

Conversely, what is most interesting about Sade (not just the woman, but the band) is how much they haven't changed in the ten years since their last album, Lovers' Rock was released. They still look and sound the same, still craft wistful melodies that deal with the intricacies of relationships. Soldier of Love, their latest offering, shows why their fans are so faithful and patient. The singer emerges like an old friend for whom the conversation is familiar, the tone is the same -- her struggle is yours even if it isn't -- and ultimately, one is glad to see her, even though it is clear that nothing about the relationship is permanent.

The largely acoustic piano "Morning Bird" sets things straight early on, as she sings of a passionate but doomed love affair: Nothing's quite how it seems/The ghost of my joy won't let me be/If you set me free I will not run/I will not run, I will not run.

The visceral "Bring Me Home" gets back into toe-tapping territory even as Sade sings about the aftermath of an emotional war. "In Another Time" is a heartfelt letter to another, presumably younger woman, promising better days after tempestuous treatment at the hands of another.

Where the album fails is when Sade tries to hard to be in with the times. The first single and title track -- as any fan worth their salt already guessed -- is an aberration from the album, with its military drums and early Neptunes-ish production (think Kelis's "Caught Out There"). More surprising than the fact that there actually is a Sade song called "Babyfather" is the fact that the song's central story is so orthodox. There are no horrific missteps, of course, but the ship could be a little tighter. Whereas one artist seems to flourish from coloring outside the lines, for another, it is a handicap.

Ultimately, Soldier of Love is an accessible, comfortable entry into the Sade legend, except for when the time spent apart seems to have made them a little less comfortable within their own collective skins.

Corinne Bailey Rae -- The Sea (4 out of 4 stars)
Sade -- Soldier of Love (3 out of 4 stars)


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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