The record that graced a million coffee tables still fascinates.
Daryl Easlea 2010
When you hear the bangs, crashes and whirrs that most music made in 1984, it is amazing to hear how pure and unaffected the debut album by Sade, Diamond Life, still sounds. Emerging from St Martin’s Art School in London, the band was formed from London funk favourites Pride. Adored by publications such as The Face, the group’s lead singer Sade Adu looked stunning and had a voice to match.
Produced by Robin Millar, Diamond Life succeeded in making the Soho in-crowd of the early 80s an in-crowd for the world. With well-honed originals and a cover of Timmy Thomas’ rare groove swamp ballad Why Can't We Live Together?, Sade made explicit both the musical elitism and joy of discovery of that era.
Smooth Operator is a perfect capture of this heady, glossy time. Adu's voice curls round the recording like smoke. Your Love Is King – surprisingly, their only ever UK top 10 single – is sweetness writ large. There’s the dispassionate funk of Hang on to Your Love and the penniless optimism of When Am I Going to Make a living?, which provided a mellow critique of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain ("Haven’t I told you before that we’re hungry for a life we can’t afford?"). The funk of Cherry Pie is reminiscent of later period Roxy Music, a huge, effortless wash of sound.
However, dissenters were rather sniffy about Sade. The album chimed perfectly with the loadsamoney era, and was used by its myriad listeners as a shortcut for Sade’s huge library of musical references. Why hear Roberta Flack, or Donny Hathaway, when you had this? Tracks such as Frankie’s First Affair are rather mired in their day, as is Sally with Stuart Matthewman’s sax draped all over it like some bad detective soundtrack.
Diamond Life became a statistician’s dream; it spent 99 weeks on the UK chart, racked up awards, launched a hugely successful career in the US and put Sade on the bill at Live Aid, and still no-one really had any clue who Adu and her band were. For them, there was no celebrity, no pouring out of clubs at 4am. It started them as a cottage industry at the centre of the music business, and that continues to this day.