Watch the promotional clip for Your Love Is King and you have so-called ‘sophisti-pop’ in a nutshell. Sade Adu is seen in a nightclub setting – exquisitely made-up, hair scraped back across her scalp, elegantly dressed – either standing with the rest of the band behind her or sitting at a table with a pack of playing cards which she spreads across the green baize like the world’s classiest croupier. Looking directly into the camera, she uses the minimum number of muscles necessary to coolly mime to the lyrics, while the perfectly polished backing track plays. It’s all sheer quality and Sade are totally in control: of the musicianship, the imagery, the whole concept. No wonder CBS snapped them up.
If the wine bar you visited in 1984 wasn’t playing Sade’s album Diamond Life then it would the debut album from Paul Weller’s new band The Style Council. They had already scored a few hits by the time Sade first made the charts, and the content of their album Café Bleu had set the standard for sophisti-pop. The musical influences were recent melodic new wave hits, soul, soft rock of the type offered in the early 80s by Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, and a touch of bossa nova with its jazz and samba origins. The records were characterised by their slick production values (perfect for the new digital compact disc format), their intelligent, considered lyrics, and their carefully designed packaging.
Other popular chart acts associated with the genre were The Blow Monkeys (Dr Robert’s clever, politically charged lyrics matched with smooth melodies on the album Animal Magic), The Blue Nile (key album, their long-seller Hats) and the work of Scritti Politti in the second half of the 80s (the immaculately produced Cupid & Psyche ‘85). While these artists made the pages of Smash Hits, they weren’t destined for the cover: after all, they were making music for grown-ups. British grown-ups, to be exact: only Sade broke the US, where none of the others had lasting success.
Only one other act from the British sophisti-pop set would have a significant impact on the American charts – and she was Polish. Basia had found fame in the UK as the girl backing singer with Matt Bianco, whose album Whose Side Are You On? had produced a string of chart hits in 1984. ‘Matt Bianco’ was the name of the group, not the lead singer Mark Reilly (the name was that a fictitious spy character the group had created), but as the band was dominated by Reilly, Basia and fellow member Danny White left after this album to work on a project of their own. As with their former band, a greater prominence was given on their albums to the Latin elements of sophisti-pop than that of their rivals, and Basia would have ten years of successful albums in America.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Feb. 6
PRETENDERS Message Of Love (Real ARE15)
SADE (Sade Adu) Your Love Is King (Epic A4137)
The WORLD’S FAMOUS SUPREME TEAM Hey DJ (Charisma TEAM1)
The STYLE COUNCIL Promised Land (Polydor TSC17)