Released today in 1984: Smooth Operator

Epic A4655

Epic A4655

The most-hyped newcomers to the music scene in 1984 released their debut album in July that year. Melody Maker was quick to clear up one issue: “Well, she can certainly sing so let’s hear no more debate about that,” they said of Sade Adu. The other critics agreed, but as usual New Musical Express’s appraisal was somewhat grudging: “Her voice lacks timbre but is furry and dusky, and wends its way skilfully through low-tempo sub-Grace Jonesish numbers like Smooth Operator to soul/jazz fusion numbers like Cherry Pie and Hang On [To Your Love],” they said, going on to comment that these were “songs that lie and flatter and conciliate, plumping out the fat outlines of the pleasure of playing games with desire. The overall effect of the record is an ago fragmented into thousands of tiny little bits, shot through with authorial detachment (as clever strategy), but at its core, this is a most conventional style of pleasing.”

Damning with feint praise was the best they were going to get from NME, but elsewhere the response was generally positive. Smash Hits gave the album 8½ out of 10: “The idea of the ‘summery sound’ is of course one of the biggest clichés in the book. So I’m sorry, but this debut LP has accompanied me swimming, sunbathing and all sort of summery things like that, and the selection of nine cool but finger-snappingly sharp songs proved the perfect soundtrack for such activities. Mind you, it sounds pretty good late at night too. Both singles are included, so is a fine cover of Timmy Thomas’ Why Can’t We Live Together? and there’s only one duff track (Cherry Pie) that I can discern.” Sounds disagreed with that point and said Cherry Pie “grows from a subdued funky opening and builds with a soaring majesty that is totally hypnotic,” and Melody Maker said “her exceptional vocal performance on Cherry Pie lifts the spirits.”

“The problem with all these nouveau-jazz buffs is that they usually wind up sounding so wretchedly self-serious and ultimately dreary – worthy, but dull,” Melody Maker continued. “For Sade, though, there are genuine signs of hope. Your Love Is King is one side of her – acceptably romantic and exquisitely crafted – but it doesn’t prepare you for the semi-epic ruggedness of Smooth Operator or Sally, a story of unexpected squalor doubling as an anthem for female fortitude. The fact that Sade manages to get to grips with a song of this drama and intensity without resorting to histrionics or overtly dynamic arrangements suggests she is one of those rare creatures with natural feel and inherent flair.” Record Mirror recognised the hype and clever production techniques, but agreed that Sade had pulled it off: “This LP is confirmation of her talents and charms, and confirms that the hurt is bigger than the hype. ..Her slinky blinkered muse on Men and When is given a polished production by Robin Millar, leaving the songs with an air of black loud compassion: no quarter and no short time. Cherry Pie is pure Young Americans, Sally is pure pleasure, and the big bag of tricks simply glimmers.”

The most gushing review came from Sounds which gave it their highest award of five stars and said it “could just as well have been called sheer perfection, such is its quality…Backed by a bunch of soul boys who concoct a blend of jazz funk and sophisto-soul with a pure pop finish that Gary Kemp would swap his record collection for, Sade has quite simply produced a classic, proving that all the hype about her was, if anything, underselling her ability.” A classic it was and a classic it remains, although I was surprised to see that it never actually made #1 despite being a staple of background music in restaurants and bars throughout the mid-80s and beyond. However, it did enter the chart in the Top 10 immediately and remained there for the rest of the year winning multiple platinum discs, and was album of the year at the 1985 BPI Awards.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 3
1982
The BEAT Jeanette (Go Feet FEET15)
CULTURE CLUB Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? (Virgin VS518)
DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS (Clive Jackson) The Druids Are Here (Whaam! WHAAM006)
1984
Nik KERSHAW Human Racing (MCA NIK5)
Philip OAKEY and Giorgio MORODER Together In Electric Dreams (Virgin VS713)
SADE (Sade Adu) Smooth Operator (Epic A4655)
U2 Pride (In The Name Of Love) (Island IS202) 

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