“Smooth Operator” by Sade

Sade have their detractors, partly because of the usual prejudice against Easy Listening and partly because they really did influence a lot of genuinely bad acts in the Smooth Jazz and Adult Contemporary genres. But in the 80s Easy Listening scene, which at the time was becoming more and more homogenized and synthetic, Sade were far more interesting than most of their peers. They had such a one-of-a-kind, utterly original sound that they could basically be said to have invented their own genre, blending elements of Jazz, Soul, R&B and Soft Rock into a style that must have seemed downright surreal at the time and still sounds unusual today, even after their innovations laid the foundations for about six different genres for the next ten years or so. This was their breakthrough hit outside their native England, and it is a fascinating song, with an appropriately smooth melody and Sade Adu’s distinctive and haunting contralto giving it an extremely memorable atmosphere. And while Sade’s cool, dry sound can feel a bit detached at times, that’s actually quite appropriate to this song’s portrait of a heartless, emotionally callow playboy breaking hearts with complete indifference. It’s a truth in life that you can’t have the good without the bad, and if Sade’s genre innovations may have led to some unfortunate acts like Crystal Waters, they also provided the basis for some of the greatest music of the Eighties and Nineties, and their own work still sounds fresh and unique even to this day.

Verdict: Good.

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