Thursday, August 27, 2009

29. Sade "By Your Side" (2000)

I'll begin with two (somewhat) related anecdotes about the great Sade Adu:
  1. In the Seinfeld episode "The Checks," Elaine discovers her boyfriend Brett is so enamored of the Eagles' song "Desperado," that he demands complete silence when it comes on the radio. As it plays, he enters a near-catatonic state of bliss (Elaine watches, hilariously nonplussed). When "By Your Side" was released in 2000, it was my "Desperado." I entered a Brett-like trance while it played.
  2. A popular comedian, and former heroin addict, once noted that Sade's music was the preferred soundtrack to his (and his fellow junkies') heroin use. He said her music sounded "heroiny." They were all huge fans.
I mention these anecdotes because they best describe the emotional reaction fans have to Sade's voice. It's perversely fitting that heroin addicts enjoy Sade. Her music is opioid.

Sade is a capable songwriter. But, she is not loved for her material. It's her delivery, her impeccable vocal phrasing, the hazy warmth of her timbre, that elevates her (sometimes middling) material to greatness.

"By Your Side" is unapologetically old-fashioned. It's filled with the standard tropes of adult contemporary music. Lyrically, it extols come-what-may devotion. Musically, its sparse instrumentation is countered by the lushness of Sade's vocal. Its pace is intended for slow dancing.

Again, what makes Sade such a great artist is her ability to make the saccharine sublime. Sure, "By Your Side" is a wedding song. But, it's a damned good one.

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