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.
I don’t think there are going to be very many tangible artifacts left over from the EDM era. There’s not going to be Classic Hits of Dubstep compilations being sold to the nostalgic in a few years. Because there are no classic hits of dubstep. Most of the DJ’s and producers who rose to fame between 2010 and 2012 have already sunk back into anonymity. All that’s left is a lot of hazy memories of cold sweats and cotton mouth and MDMA hangovers. It’s just not a song-based genre, OK? EDM was always about improvisation and in-the-moment experience. And bass drops, which will never not be cool, haha. But if you absolutely must find a handful of actual songs to remember those years by, one of them will be this one. Deadmau5 doesn’t have to worry about regaining his anonymity because his schtick was always appearing disguised as some kind of a nightmarish hybrid of Mickey Mouse and a giant disco ball. Which was memorable enough in its way. And he also, in between dropping that bass like a tab of bad acid, released some albums with songs on them, and some of those songs were good. (He also released a ‘classical’ album last year, and it was weirdly not bad.) But really, you can thank the German singer and DJ SOFI for the hit-quotient of this track. With her sassy flow, she really breaks the usual mold of ethereal and – of course! – anonymous female vocals that EDM is known for. She brings some much needed hot blooded human sexuality into the sterile world of machine-produced dance beats. It’s seared into my memories of 2010.
For all of his influence and discreet ubiquity, I haven’t heard much about Brian Eno lately. Not that he’s the kind of an artist who aims to make headlines, but I could do with some better keeping up. It seems like he’s still all about composing otherworldly soundscapes. As usual, those soundscapes are both purposefully boring and subtly evocative. That is, they do evoke an distinct imaginative atmosphere. It could be the soundtrack to the kind of perversely drawn-out art movie that hardly anyone makes anymore, for example, the kind where static wide-lens shots of gently rustling greenery drag on for minutes at a time, and everyone is silently consumed with unspecified but very terrible sorrows. Eno draws the listener into this imaginative plane, and that plane is – plot twist! – extremely boring. Which is exactly Eno’s plan, his longtime devious hobby of creating things of great beauty that are impossible to pay any kind of sustained attention to.
Goldfrapp really set the standard for modern-day disco music. They’ve made albums that aren’t nightclub material, but it’s all about the dance records. It’s a deliberate bit of time-travel, an attempt to create a happy, woozy atmosphere and a feeling of optimism. That was eight years ago, and now more than ever we definitely need all the cheering up we can get. You can’t escape into the disco clouds all the time, but you should at least have that option.
We know that a life of beauty, wealth and fame is not guaranteed to be free from pain and suffering. But we also know that a life without those things is absolutely guaranteed to deliver the hard knocks and to never stop delivering them. And that success after a life of hard knocks is very rare. Sharon Jones is one of those rare people who worked her way to fame over decades of poverty and struggle, and she has, indeed, a unique perspective on life. She has a perspective even the greatest soul and blues singers may not have had. She didn’t observe life from the remove of a working performer, imagining it from the stage or through the window of a tour bus; she saw the real ugliness up close, in her job as a guard on Rikers Island. That kind of work can destroy the soul of the person who has to do it, but for Jones, it did the opposite. It allowed her sing about hard-knock things with empathy and authority, to be a voice for women like herself. She has no patience for shitbag men and their romantic platitudes, for one thing, and she has no patience for tough-guy posturing and big talk. She has no patience for people who don’t treat their loved ones with love and respect. What she does have is all the love and respect for women who get knocked down and get back up and learn to keep on fighting. She has respect for children who grow up strong in spite of all the hard knocks their parents passed down to them. Here, she specifically calls out the cruelty of abusive parents and celebrates the child’s strength to grow up and stand up for themselves and break the cycle.
Sham pain for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends, as they say… Marina Diamandis, clever as she is, isn’t above using some corny-ass dad puns as vehicle for her social commentary, in this case about the perils of getting yourself blackout drunk. She also wrote a song called Hermit the Frog. She likes wordplay. And she’s totally in using it. Humor and absurdity go a long way towards leavening angst-ridden topics, and Marina uses both, along with heady doses of glam and glitter, to get her message across. Underneath the hooks and costumes, there’s some heavy angst, and serious observations about how wounding and hard life can be for women and how much of a charade femininity essentially is. Also, the weight of creativity and fame, don’t forget about that additional burden. Life is an uphill battle. Let us have our dad puns.