Sade's debut album, 'Diamond Life', was an era defining record that sounded like nothing else at the time
Diamond Life, released on the 16th July 1984, is not only a significant album in it's own right, it's a cultural touchstone and a near perfect representation of a particular moment in time. Sade not only brought a smooth and sophisticated air of genuine quality to a bombastic pop market in the mid-eighties they also brought to the fore a largely untapped genre. Sade's jazz influenced subtle soul mix gave rise to sophisti-pop, a title befitting it's time but a little light for what Sade actually delivered. With Diamond Life Sade launched a look, a lifestyle choice and with it the soundtrack to every well-to-do, or wannabe dinner party in the land. If Smooth Operator wasn't playing at a drinks party, a soirée or on the Blaupunkt cassette player in your Porsche as you drove into The City then quite frankly what were you thinking?
When big hair and even bigger shoulder pads were beginning to define Thatcher's hedonist decade of extravagance and polarization Sade Adu arrived with restraint and style. The smoldering horns and laid back percussion of Sade's first single Your Love Is King served as a fantastic introduction to the singer and her band when it was released five months ahead of the album in February of 1984. The self-penned debut single peaked at number six on the UK chart that, at the time, was headed up by Lionel Ritchie's saccharine sweet Hello.(To give it some context, the same chart also contained entries from Alexei Sayle, Tracy Ullman, Captain Sensible and Slade)
Sade really got into their groove with their second single, When Am I Going To Make A Living. The super smooth soul with unobtrusive beats was a brilliant platform for Adu's silky and alluring vocals. While the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and even Nena were taking a more direct and flamboyant route, Sade arrived with a flair for fashion and the looks of a supermodel model.
The album's opening track, and certainly one of it's defining moments, Smooth Operator, was released in September of 1984 as the third single. The combination of Sade Adu's sultry voice paired with the sax and sparse keyboards is a match made in heaven. If this wasn't resting poised on your Technics deck as you returned from Zhivago's or Madisons with your latest one night stand in tow then you'd missed a trick.
Whilst the flamboyant and grandiose were de rigueur, Sade were reserved and paired back, channeling Billie Holiday over Billy Connolly and making a sound that was both a product of it's time but out of sync with all around it. Sade Adu was the torch-singer in a smoky, dimly lit Jazz club, not the over the top, in your face, day-glo disco infused Pop of the masses.
Sade and her band were pretty much ploughing their own furrow back in 1984. The jazzy inflections, polished arrangements and more considered approach set them apart from many of their contemporaries at the time. The subtleties in the mixes and the overall production on Diamond Life set a benchmark that has rarely been matched on a debut album. Diamond Life deservedly landed Sade Album Of The Year at the BRIT Awards in 1985 and it remained the best selling debut album by a female artist for 24 years.