Review Summary: If Diamond Life proved to be a fine debut, it’s truly with Promise that Sade delivers her first larger-than-life album.Sade: The Band and the Woman
Part II: Promise
While her debut showed that Sade and her band were a talented act, it was with her sophomore effort that Sade delivered on her promise (convenient pun). Where her first effort included what is probably her best-known single, there was more to Sade than “Smooth Operator” (a phenomenon akin to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), and Promise is definitive proof of that. Here, Sade’s songwriting has begun to reach its fruition, and we are treated to some of her best work.
One of the major contrasts between Diamond Life and Promise is that the latter feels more varied and experimental. Diamond Life’s jazzy textures become slightly monotonous in its the second half. In this regard, Promise is a more comfortable listen since it feels more varied.
"The Sweetest Taboo" features some fine keyboard work and percussion. Trumpets and bass are also thrown in. The song manages to be both upbeat and relaxing at the same time. "Is it a Crime" has one of Sade’s most impressive vocal performances. When she sings “He takes, but surely she can't give what I'm feeling now. She takes, but surely she doesn't know how” and “It dives, it jumps and it ripples like the deepest ocean. I can't give you more than that, surely you want me back“, she delivers powerfully, demonstrating her ace vocal chops. The instruments serve her voice exquisitely, and we are treated to a fine piano solo after the second chorus, followed by a trumpet or sax solo.
"Jezebel" is a soft ballad discussing the story of a girl. Trumpets and sax shine here, and the mood couldn’t possibly feel more relaxing. Sade sings with a more easygoing style than on “Is it a Crime”, but that doesn’t make her chops less mesmerizing. "Tar Baby" opens up in a chilling mood, keyboards, sax and trumpets dominating the scene. The lyrics are hard to understand, but Sade is able to express it so skillfully that many listeners won’t have a problem with this.
So, if Diamond Life proved to be a fine debut, it’s truly with Promise that Sade delivers her first larger-than-life album. True, her style might feel retro at times, rather than going along with the less sophisticated style of many pop-stars of the time. But Sade and her band certainly weren’t once to go along with trends; instead, they only did what they felt like doing. And they do it greatly here.