Sade says very profound, simple things about love. Though she writes about heartbreak a lot, she never comes off as a sad person. She makes it sound like a storm to be weathered, from which she emerges with her strength intact. That makes her some kind of throwback as a songwriter. Her stoicism and ability to find poetic beauty in pain is timeless. It’s also antithetical to modern songwriting, which wants to view heartbreak as trauma and breakups as a series of petty grievances. Right now is the age of confessional songwriting, in which everything is messy and ugly and raw, and that is in many ways cathartic. But though songwriters like Kristine Flaherty (K.Flay) who paint themselves as messed-up and dysfunctional are easy to relate to (and I admire them for that), the old-fashioned grace of Sade is something to aspire to.
Amy Winehouse had a lot of problems in her short life. (Watch the film Amy for all the tragic details.) Not least of those was her absolute devotion to a man who was little more than a crackhead and petty criminal. In the years of her rise to fame, and subsequent breakdown, her life revolved around him; even when he left her for another woman, even when he used her fame and money to gain access to drugs and more drugs, even when he was sent to prison. It was that masochistic loyalty, as much as her musical talent, that set Winehouse apart from other singers and put her in the Billie Holiday torch singer playbook. Glamorizing bad relationships with bad men is way past being acceptable anymore, and even in 2006 it was disturbing. Except that, in all of her obvious sincerity and turmoil, no one could accuse Amy Winehouse of trying to glamorize anything. She knew damn well her choices were bad, she just couldn’t help herself.
For a girl who like to wear giant glitter-encrusted fruit on her head, Marina Diamandis is sure full of darkness and angst. She comes out looking like she’s about to tell everyone to put their hands up in the air and dance like they just don’t care, and then she goes into a ballad about the existential emptiness inside herself. While all the fifteen-year-old gay bois in the audience sing along in rousing unison. (They’re all wearing giant bananas on their heads.) Yes, I have been to a Marina show. It was like a bespangled fever dream of gender-fluid hormones and inner pain. That’s what makes a camp icon for the ages, kiddos. Now, I wasn’t entirely sure that the younger generation were in need of a camp icon of their own, or if a child of fifteen summers would even know what camp is. But apparently they do and they do. The kids understand very well that the inner pain that’s simpering, boring and mundane in a basic bitch who shops at Marshalls becomes a boiling, heartrending, operatic statement of tragic longing and universal suffering when the sufferer is a glitter slut from outer space. The fission between outer fabulosity and inner turmoil just makes it all – mwah! – pure art.
It’s been a decade since the last Sade record, and there may or may not be another one. It’s entirely possible that we’ll have to be content with what we have from her, because there’s hardly any doubt that Sade herself could happily never appear in public again. Still, if she does come back, I’m sure that she will once again show all the baby divas how it’s done. She is the very definition of a class act. No feuds, breakdowns, rudeness, or exhibitionism for Sade Adu. All that we know about her, really, is that she loves deeply and fiercely. If love is a battlefield, Sade is the veteran who wears their medals with modesty. And if you think that that’s a clunky old metaphor, Sade is the singer who fills it with conviction again.
To be perfectly honest, I’m getting tired of writing about Here Lies Love after all these years. I mean, it’s been nine years; if you haven’t bought this record already, I don’t know what I can do for you. And it’s not like some new wrinkle in the saga of Imelda Marcos is going to spawn a sequel. None of those things stop me from still listening to the record way more often than I should. And if nothing else, it still offers an introduction to a veritable parade of vocal talents. Here is Nicole Adkins, a singer-songwriter known for her retro style and love for musical Americana.
Nobody in the electropop realm has creepier visions than Ladytron. Chalk it up to too much education or the natural morbidity of Eastern Europe. But as much as their melodies are beautiful, their lyrics are about witchcraft and alienation. Even their love songs are creepy. It’s that atmosphere of the faintly twisted that’s kept them at the top of their game for so long, being among the most acclaimed electronic music group of their time.
In my household, it seems that Lorde’s second album has not caught on as much as her first one. It seems like we like her less as an angsty young adult than as a precocious adolescent. A big part of the appeal that shot her to fame was her ‘weird kid at the back of the class’ vibe, the way she turned a surprisingly perceptive eye on the feverish rituals of growing up. Her songwriting felt like a sleeper cell’s coded messages from inside a war zone. But precocious little girls have to grow up one day. If anyone could be expected to do it with grace and smarts, it’s Lorde, and she has. If it puts me off a little that her turf now includes the grownup matters of sex and drinking, it’s not because I didn’t want her to grow up. It’s because there’s already a lot of music being written about those things, from every imaginable perspective, and there always will be, because it’s songwriters’ Ground Zero. I want Lorde to work out whatever she has to work out with her first heartbreak and her first lessons in long lonely drunken nights, and move on to writing about something else already. She’s too good to get stuck writing about petty angst.