By Jack Sharkey, May 16, 2016

Thirty-two years on, in spite of the massive over-play of Smooth Operator, Diamond Life stands up both for the music and the production. Aloof and almost icy, Sade Adu draws you in subtly without a hint of the vocal theatrics we’ve become so accustomed to in our American Idol / The Voice world. You actually have to listen to this record to get what’s going on – the band is not going to scream it at you. Critics have often knocked Adu for her detachment from her audience but I think they miss the point: Her delivery wraps the listener up in the stories being told like only the greatest singers can do. This record shifted 65 million units in the US, so yeah, she can't be that detached.Sade Diamond Life     

  • Released February 25, 1985 (US)
  • Length: 44:31
  • Produced by Robin Millar
  • Engineered by Mike Peal, Ben Rogan   
  • Recorded at The Power PLANT - London
  • Reached #3 1985 Billboard R&B Chart, #5 1985 Billboard Top 200, #5 1985 Billboard Jazz

 

Front-to-Back Rating: ⑨ Sit back, relax and enjoy the music – all the way through.

Audiophile Love Rating: ⑨ This record belongs in the collection of every serious audiophile. In it’s original mastering Diamond Life would’ve easily scored a ⑩ if the kick drum in Cherry Pie was just a little more sonically in-synch with the rest of the mix.

Engineering and Mix: ⑨ If you love to listen to real percussion this is the perfect record for you: The hand percussion is recorded and mixed beautifully. Listening today you need to get past the dated keyboards, but this was recorded in 1985 after all.

 

Sade is the name of the band and early on, one of the most appealing things about them/her was the conveyed feeling that this was a group of musicians working together to make music rather than a bunch of sidemen supporting an ingénue chanteuse. Sade Adu sings with attitude and feel, not pyrotechnics, and that’s her biggest appeal. A contralto, Adu’s range is somewhat limited (certainly by today's standards) but she's a perfect example of a singer who sells a song via emotion. Switching back and forth between velvet and 600 grit sandpaper, sometimes in the same phrase, hers’ is a voice meant to draw you in. Plus, very few singers bend notes like Adu does. She uses the technique sparingly, making the overall performance that much more enjoyable when taken in as a complete set.

 

After thirty years, we’re all familiar with (overly familiar) the two opening tracks, Smooth Operator and Hang On To Your Love, and that’s kind of a shame, because they are really great songs that deserve better than to hang in the Oldies closet. If you ever doubt that things don’t change much from generation to generation, delve into the themes of love, longing, the ravages of heroin, and the struggles of race, performed by a bunch of twenty-somethings thirty-two years ago. In that sense, in spite of the dated Yamaha DX-7 keys, this record is timeless.

 

The mix is wide-open and every instrument sits perfectly where it belongs. For this review I listened to the original pressing I purchased in the spring of 1985 and I would recommend sticking with the original mastering over anything that may have been done afterward. The record is not overly dynamically compressed which makes it a real pleasure to listen to.

 

As I mentioed earlier, I think you’ll be particularly impressed with the percussion but the saxophone recording is a total treat. Sax is a difficult instrument to record and often turns out sounding tooty or electronic, whereas the sax on this record (as well as the muted trumpet) all sound breathy and live. The set is seemlessly tracked and mixed and you get the feeling you're in fact listening to a performance from front to back. Side Two ends with a cover of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 hit Why Can’t We Live Together as a complete dichotomy to the sugary sensual sweetness of the set’s two opening tracks. 

 

Diamond Life is best listened to: 

  • • Side 1: When you’re with your date
  • • Side 2: When you’re with your date but you’re both a little worn out and tired from all of this living stuff
  • • Sometimes you just want to listen to a record to get immersed in the sound of it – this is that record
  • • Break out the Gray Goose and look up some fancy drinks

 

 The system used for this review: Vinyl on a VPI Scout turntable with KEF R300s powered by a Hegel H160 Integrated.