Released in 1984, ‘Diamond Life’ was a remarkably alluring album in many respects. As an overnight sensation from an unknown group, the album went 4x Platinum in both the UK and the US. More interesting that sales figures, the band was named for front woman Sade Adu; a strong British, Black, female voice backed by three skinny white guys. At a time when Soul was either American or blue eyed, ‘Diamond Life’ was a dramatic shift to the British Pop landscape.
Musically, it’s an album that has long since fallen from fashion. Considered lounge music by many; its mix of Jazz, Soul, R&B and Pop was nonetheless seductively smooth and new on its release. Yet what really made ‘Diamond Life’ stand out was Sade’s vocals.
Opening with the spoken word intro of ‘Smooth Operator’ our first hint of the depth to Sade’s singing voice is the opening words of the second verse; “Diamond life…”. By the time the chorus kicks in with its mantra-like repetition of the song title, the rounded depth of Sade’s vocals have come to life. Behind her, the multi-part instrumentation of large Jazz and Soul bands is stripped down to the basics.
This recipe of instrumental loops, on ‘Diamond Life’ not yet built from samples, with affecting Soul vocals over the top would go on to influence everyone from Soul II Soul to Massive Attack to contemporaries like Everything But The Girl. The slow building intro to ‘Cherry Pie’ is a masterclass in distilling classic Soul and Funk to its essence; a clear lesson for Sade’s musical descendants.
Simply put, as a hyper stylish album of Jazz and Soul influenced easy listening, ‘Diamond Life’ reached a huge global audience and repositioned Soul at the heart of British Pop music.