Search International Hotels
Just as we've got used to the idea that Adele is now a massive star in America, triumphing at the Grammys for the second album running, waving at her mum and crying through her mascara that "the girl done good", it transpires there is someone bigger. A British artist whose staggering sales have pushed Adele down the ranking to merely the second biggest-selling British musician in the 2012 US money list.
What's really surprising is that the No 1 British act in America isn't Elton John or Paul McCartney or any of those obvious British behemoths abroad (although Irish band U2 did come in higher and Coldplay haven't released anything recently). Nor is it a young stealth interloper such as Mumford & Sons. It is, in fact, Sade, who many of you will have forgotten decades ago, to be reminded only when Your Love Is King and The Sweetest Taboo pop up on daytime radio, or as the soothing soundtrack to buying shoes. (Indeed I did once hear a Sade album, sometimes dismissed as elevator music, being played in a hotel lift.)
In the US, her 2010 comeback, which led to a new album, a greatest hits album and a huge tour, was a much bigger deal than it was in the UK. Perhaps it makes sense that Sade's music would find a healthy audience in America, where many original fans were unaware, given her mixed race looks and her soulful style, that she was British not American. Her grown-up brand of pop music – understated, fatalistic, with that sultry voice and her astonishing almond-shaped eye – gave her a sophisticated appeal. But not much of a public persona. Indeed, I was surprised to discover that she is now happily installed in a modest cottage in the Cotswolds with her boyfriend and teenage daughter. (Most of us didn't even know she had one.) In her home country, Sade is something of a comfortable heritage act; her lifestyle is hardly tabloid fodder.
Yet in America, she is a star. Brad Wavra, senior vice-president of touring at Live Nation, the world's biggest show promoter, declared Sade to be a "rare jewel. It feels like I'm working with Miles Davis, Elvis Presley and the Beatles all rolled into one." Rolling Stone described her new studio album, Soldier of Love, as "unimpeachably excellent" while Billboard said: "It's been 10 years since Sade released an album, but be forewarned – the giant has awoken." People magazine succinctly summed up Sade's enduring appeal as "the voice of comfort to the wounded heart". All of which led to her — or rather, the four-piece band that bears her name — earning $16.4m from combined album and ticket sales last year.
Of course, Adele had to cancel her American tour because of throat surgery, which means her takings were unexpectedly diminished, but even so the average British music fan probably wouldn't have expected to see Sade on the list anywhere at all. She comes in sixth, after Taylor Swift, U2, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne — a fairly broad church of country, rock, rap and pop. They are followed by Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and Jason Aldean (no, us neither), and then, at No 10, Adele.
Given that Sade is one of the least public British popstars we've ever had, does her longevity put paid to the idea that with success comes a pact with the devil of celebrity? The big promo campaigns; the paparazzi; letting the gossipmongers feed on your public romances and your private pain – none of this really sounds like her. Sade's songs do speak of pain; if not battle cries, they are cries from somebody who has battled. But they are gentle, smooth, not seemingly designed to conquer the world or fill a stadium. The music industry still talks in hallowed tones about "cracking America", something Adele has done with huge impact, but when Sade did it, she wasn't so obviously British. She didn't court the chatshow circuit with a gobby accent in the way that Adele does, so her speaking voice went largely unheard.
In fact, she has given a couple of interviews in recent years. She told Spin magazine her mother struggled a lot, having married in Nigeria "and then come home to England with two brown children and a suitcase in the early 60s". Sade's father, a lecturer, remained in Nigeria, where Sade lived until the age of 11. "I am fairly classless because it is very difficult to class someone who comes from a mixed marriage. There isn't a class structure in Nigeria, there's a tribal structure and prestige as far as money is concerned." She told Ebony magazine that her partner, Ian, "was a Royal Marine, then a fireman, then a Cambridge graduate in chemistry. I always said that if I could just find a guy who could chop wood and had a nice smile it didn't bother me if he was an aristocrat or a thug as long as he was a good guy. I've ended up with an educated thug."
It seems she quite enjoys being able to live the quiet life in England, while enjoying fame overseas – a lot like Iron Maiden, who earn millons every year touring like rock gods in South America and Asia, but are seen as a thing of the past in England. Bruce Dickinson says he likes flying a private jet to a show in Rio but then riding a bike to the pub in Chiswick.
Says Paul Simper, a journalist who worked with her extensively in the 1980s: "None of the other British solo women from Sade's time, such as Alison Moyet or Carmel, made any impact in the US at all. Sade was unique in that respect. But her Englishness was never a selling point. CBS just wanted to sign her and build her up to be somebody like Whitney, get her a professional studio band, but she resolutely stuck to her guns and stayed with the band from London she'd always had. And she still has – she's always done it on her terms. Being successful in America didn't involve any compromise or sounding any more American; her sound was always the same throughout."
And that sound has stood the test of time. Songs like Smooth Operator, No Ordinary Love and Love Is Stronger Than Pride do now feel like classics. The way she sings is the way her career has turned out – in no hurry, not about to change for anybody. Her songs are in it for the long game, and so is she.
No Ordinary Love (1992)
The band reached their peak of opulent sound design on the aptly titled album Love Deluxe; its seven-minute epic of a lead single is as bleak as it is sensual, casting heartbreak as the greatest luxury of all.
Soldier Of Love (2010)
Another decade off, another formidable comeback: Sade sounded more impressive than ever on a song that reiterated her modus operandi over the years, standing immovable and strong while delivering her lyrics like regal commands.
Smooth Operator (1984)
Arguably the band's signature single, the accuracy with which its suave music, complete with sax solo, conveyed the business-class lifestyle of its subject set the tone for how they would be perceived over their entire career. As a credo, "We move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy" remains revelatory.
Turn My Back On You (1988)
Anchored by a bassline that feels like it could go on for ever, Sade's light touch defines this. Her casualness and distracted ba-ba-bas belie her devotion, but it's all in the details: the crucial pause in the way she sings "You are my ... religion," for instance.
By Your Side (2000)
After an eight-year hiatus, Sade returned to a radically altered R&B landscape and dropped her facade completely: the Lovers Rock album sounded more intimate and organic than ever before.
Cherish The Day (1992)
The band at their most abstractly evocative: at their best, they could do a remarkable amount with very little – as proved by this song, during which immense yearning is conveyed.
Despite their association with luxe signifiers, it's often overlooked that Sade could turn her melancholy-suffused voice to social issues with surprising feel; the juxtaposition here of "a woman in Somalia" and the distinctly first-world metaphor "it hurts like brand new shoes" works because the tragedy is of both narrator and object being trapped in bubbles they can't escape from.
Is It A Crime (1986)
Sade's penchant for the epic was fully indulged on this six-and-a-half-minute 1986 single, from its length to its metaphors: her love here is "wider than Victoria Lake ... taller than the Empire State" – and, unsaid, clearly able to traverse half the globe as well.
Love Is Stronger Than Pride (1988)
Seemingly composed entirely from air currents and fragments of Spanish guitar, the lead single from the 1988 album of the same name showed Sade at their most minimal; appropriately enough, 14 years later German minimal techno legend Michael Mayer would cover it to stellar effect.
Give It Up (Kenny Larkin Remix) (2006)
The malleability of Sade's voice has always made her excellent source material for remixers, and Detroit techno legend Kenny Larkin's dreamy, percussive take on Give It Up is one of the finest out there.
Diddy-Dirty Money - Sade (2011)
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Sade's music is the esteem in which she is held by contemporary artists. Last year, a love of her music recurred throughout the work of Diddy and his Dirty Money group, reaching its peak in this astonishing song.
Playlist compiled by Alex Macpherson