The releases from Audio Fidelity remind me of the good old days of reissues when things weren’t quite as pretentious. Now, instead of enjoying music, it’s become an intellectual enterprise. “Yes, this latest release is cut at 78 RPM, half-speed mastered using an original AEG stereophonic Magnetophone built for Hitler’s uncompleted media room at the Berghof, a Westrex table, two decommissioned SDI lasers for the mastering head, silk covered rhodium wire, positioned on the equator to offset spin in either direction, and in a climate controlled nuclear bunker. Oh, this is the special edition 16” 1,800 gram 14K gold pressing, that runs from inside out. We don’t want one of those junky regular pressings (yeah, that would be sooooo lame). High five!” I just had a Lirpa Labs flashback.
Instead of ultra rare recordings made by the 15th viola player in the “Southern North Dakota at Hoople Heavy Orchestra”, we have a mix of Joe Walsh, Jane’s Addiction, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. A nice variety and all of it is entertaining. Isn’t that what we really want? To be entertained? This being a vinyl column (DIP doesn’t sound as cool as VIP), I’m reviewing Sade’s Promise.
- Audio Fidelity LP AFZLP 139
- 33 1/3 RPM, Gatefold Jacket
- Mastered by Kevin Gray
- 180 Gram
- Numbered Edition
First off, I have to admit that I didn’t know Sade was a group. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that Sade, while being the name of Sade, was also the name of Sade’s group, so technically, this record is by the group known as Sade. Actually Sade really isn’t her name. It’s Helen Folasade Adu, OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). She is a British citizen, born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and English mother. Though ageless, she is actually 54 years old.
Promise, Sade’s Sophomore release from 1985, was a quadruple platinum success, with three songs that charted. Following the successful debut, Diamond Life, Sade was at their commercial peak with this record. Sade’s music really doesn’t fit a single genre. The closest hole, in which it could be pigeoned, is Adult Contemporary or Contemporary R&B. Promise is darker and more laid-back than Diamond Life, a trend which would continue through Sade’s career.
1. “Is It a Crime” – 6:20
2. “The Sweetest Taboo” – 4:37
3. “War of the Hearts” – 6:47
4. “Jezebel” – 5:30
5. “Mr Wrong” – 2:52
6. “Never as Good as the First Time” – 5:00
7. “Fear” – 4:10
8. “Tar Baby” – 3:59
9. “Maureen” – 4:20
The Packaging is superb. The look and feel of the gatefold jacket is miles ahead of the original issue. The litho work is beautiful. The look and feel would suggest a higher price than what Audio Fidelity is asking.
The most interesting thing is the sound, obviously. The “sound” of the mastering by Kevin Gray is commendably excellent. But, he is slightly limited by the source material. If I were to grade an original pressing, I would’ve given it a 6-7, depending on track. Kevin improves it across the board, to a 7-8, and occasional 9. You can hear changes in microphone and equipment setup as the tracks progress, something that was obliterated by the mediocre vinyl and mastering of the original issue. Most of the occasional hardness of the original pressing is gone, though there are still a few places where the ‘80s studio sound pops out. Many recording studios in the late ‘70s through the ‘80s had a sterile quality, the result of too many circuits, too much feedback and too many switches/pots. They went processor and gadget crazy, and music became glossier as a result. That wasn’t the aim with this record, but the studio electronics weren’t as rich and detailed as those from the ‘60s. Had I never listened to the original pressings, I wouldn’t have noticed the artifacts in the reissue. Having known the original pressing, and knowing what I know about “recording engineers gone wild”, I was primed to be disappointed, but I wasn’t. Most of the original shortcomings are gone. I guess I should’ve put “spoiler alert” at the beginning of the paragraph. The bottom line is that the tonal balance and levels of distortion are all greatly improved with this reissue.
The pressing quality is wonderful: quiet pressing; very flat; well-centered; commendably heavy. I didn’t clean it. I hate cleaning records. I like cleaning records about as much as painting the house. Except that painting is more interesting. Through both sides, I might have heard 2 or 3 “pfhss”, which could’ve been a stray cat hair or a bit of lint off my shirt. Who knows? I had my “reviewer” ears on, which allow me to listen to music and not enjoy it. Paralysis from analysis! Compared to most of my vinyl, which I enjoy, this pressing is close to perfect.
I’m not going to go into the musical selections like I sometimes do. This isn’t rare or hard to find stuff. Hit Youtube. Everything is there, I think. Not surprisingly, I was more drawn to the deep cuts, only because several of these tunes were in regular rotation on MTV and local MOR radio back in the day.
This is a worthy update of a worthy record. I had forgotten how taken I was with Sade’s aloof persona, the smoky contralto voice and the tasteful arrangements. It made her sound sexy then. She sounds even sexier on this pressing. The only nits to pick are with the recording studio, and that was 28 years ago. Mission accomplished for Audio Fidelity. Boffo!
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