Ranking the best Sade albums

If you hang around Soul In Stereo often, you probably know my annoyance with current music’s obsession with “vibes.”

Now look, I’m all for mellow, understated mood music. But all too often, “vibes” has become code for boring, lazy and repetitive.

Thank God for Sade, the true queen of vibes.

Vibes, with substance, that is.

First, let’s acknowledge a pet peeve of mine – we all know Sade Adu, the ageless, trendsetting musical icon who took soul to unprecedented new directions in the 1980s. But we don’t show enough love to Sade THE BAND, the architects of the soundscapes that became synonymous with Sade Adu’s icy vocals.

Sade is more than a woman, Sade is an entity.

Today’s we’re showing love to the entire Sade collective by looking back at their entire discography from bottom to top. Rankings were determined by album quality, consistency, and impact.

Sade was always about quality, never about quantity – we’ve only gotten SIX albums over the course of 35 years. Seeing that Sade seems to return every 10 years, it’s about time for album No. 7. While we wait, let’s revisit the classics.

6. Soldier of Love (2010)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Sade’s most recent release might not be the beloved masterpieces that adorn the top half of the group’s discography, but it’s a pretty solid offering, thanks to a willingness to evolve and add a fresh spin to a classic sound. I still contend that “The Moon & The Sky” is one of the best songs in Sade’s discography – a pretty amazing feat when you realize Sade n’ friends were 25 years into the game at that point.

Forgotten favorites: “Babyfather,” “Solider of Love,” “The Moon & The Sky”

5. Lovers Rock (2000)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Solider of Love wasn’t Sade’s first attempt at evolution. Thanks to Lovers Rock, the band stepped into the 21st century with a new groove, adding dashes of reggae, folk and rock to an already-potent mix of funk and soul. There are a few lulls where things get a little too drowsy (a common Sade flaw, honestly) but things pick up greatly by the album’s end. Lovers Rock’s creative risks don’t always pay off, but when they do, they hit.

Forgotten favorites: “All About Our Love,” “Lovers Rock,” “Every Word”

4. Promise (1985)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: You rarely hear much convo about Sade’s sophomore album these days, and relistening to it for this review showed me why. This set is all about the singles: “Is It a Crime,” “Sweetest Taboo” and “Never as Good as the First Time” do all the heavy lifting here. The album cuts aren’t bad – they’re quite good, in fact – but they don’t stand out as much as album cuts on later releases, and certainly not to the level of the headlining singles here. Promise is nonetheless a strong, though slightly unmemorable project that just doesn’t branch out beyond its three tentpole tracks.

Forgotten favorites: “War of the Hearts,” “Fear,” “Maureen”

3. Stronger than Pride (1988)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: I’m pretty sure Stronger Than Pride was the first Sade album I heard in full, and what a way to make an introduction. Sade really had something to say here – her lyrics are more introspective and poignant than past albums, putting a needed edge to her sultriness. It’s also a bit more consistent than its predecessor Promise. Maybe it’s just because I stan for this album but it’s my pick for the group’s most underrated release.

Forgotten favorites: “Turn My Back on You,” “Keep Looking,” “I Never Thought I’d See the Day”

2. Diamond Life (1984)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: The choices for the top two spots were pretty obvious – it’s no surprise that Sade’s head-turning debut would land this high on the list. And while it’s not quite as seamless as my pick for the top spot, it’s not far off. It’s rare that we’ve seen an artist debut with such a distinct sound right out of the gate. Diamond Life rewrote the rules with mellow, understated melodies long before y’all were zoning out to lo-fi YouTube channels. Add in a batch of classic tracks (“Your Love Is King” is still the best Sade joint ever, fight me in the comments) and Diamond Life is easily one of the most defining albums of the 80s.

Forgotten favorites: “Hang on to Your Love,” “When Am I Going to Make a Living,” “Cherry Pie”

1. Love Deluxe (1992)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: “Cherish the Day.” “No Ordinary Love.” “Kiss of Life.” “Feel No Pain.” With a roster of unforgettable songs like those, it’s no wonder why Love Deluxe is such a beloved record. It’s ambient mood music at its jazzy best, not only distinguishing Sade as a unique force in music but also creating a template that would become the building blocks for the neo-soul movement years later. It’s not a perfect album but it’s a classic album in every sense of the word.

Forgotten favorites: “Pearls,” “Bullet Proof Soul,” “I Couldn’t Love You More”

Are you a Love Deluxe or a Diamond Life? Tell us how you’d rank Sade’s best in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. I love all of these albums.

  2. My top 2 would be Love Deluxe and Stonger than Pride

  3. “Stronger than Pride” and “Promise” feel like the truest most Sade albums.

  4. Jay Anim Johnson June 7, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Dang! You read my mind as Love Deluxe is my Album of the Day for my own musical journal series named Albums That I Love. For Black Music Month, each day, I listen to and then review an album that I love by a black woman.

    Anyway, great ranking of my favorite female artist of all time (even though, as you pointed out, Sade is really a THEY instead of just HER). Here is my own ranking of their or her six sets:
    1 .Love Deluxe
    2. Stronger Then Pride
    3. Lovers Rock
    4. Diamond Life
    5. Promise
    6. Solider of Love

  5. Love Deluxe will ALWAYS be #1. It’s possibly my #1 album of all time. There’s just nothing like it. So glad I was around when it was released and I enjoyed it immediately. It was a special and memorable time to be alive and Sade’s album easily describes what the era of the early 1990s meant to me.

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