Sade was a bona fide British sensation by the time its debut was released in the summer of 1984. Blending plush arrangements that were as inspired by quiet storm as they were by classic soul sides, and with lead vocalist Sade Adu’s blooming alto and gritty, humanistic lyrics, the foursome had already gone top-10 in the UK with their debut single. That song, “Your Love Is King,” could double as Sade 101—meticulously arranged from its opening sax blare through its fade-out, the midtempo ballad incorporates girl-group harmonies and flinty guitars as Adu details her physical and emotional desires, smoldering all the way.
Diamond Life builds on the chilled-out promise of “King” thrillingly. “Smooth Operator,” the heartbreaker chronicle that turned Sade into an MTV staple, still evokes high-flying mystery, with Adu’s voice opening wide, while the cover of Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” adds ’80s gloss to the original’s dime-store organ riff. But it’s not all smooth sailing: The undulating “When Am I Going to Make a Living,” inspired by a note a frustrated pre-fame Adu scrawled on a receipt, has a call-and-response chorus that sounds like a workers’ rallying cry, while the shuddering “Sally” paints portraits of New Yorkers living on the edge. Diamond Life is the arrival of a band fully formed, and ready to transform pop.