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** 1/2 SADE "Lover's Rock" Epic

November 12, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER

One of the most remarkable qualities about "Diamond Life," Sade Adu's gorgeous 1984 debut album, was its timelessness. Such hits as "Smooth Operator" and "Your Love Is King" didn't really mirror the spirit of the '80s. From the start, Sade was just Sade, the diva with the silky voice, oblivious to styles and trends.

It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that the Nigerian singer's first collection in eight years pretty much picks up where 1992's rather tepid "Love Deluxe" left off. The beats are as languid as it gets, the melodies abstract to the point of blending into one another, and Sade's voice sounds as inviting as ever.

The only disappointment is the singer's reliance on artificial beats to set up moods that before were largely acoustic. Sure, the nonchalant groove of a drum machine seems almost tailor-made for her cool sensibility. But in the past, her music was much more than a classy backdrop for romance. Interestingly, the best moments on "Lover's Rock" are the more sparsely produced ones. Devoid of any rhythmic accompaniment, "The Sweetest Gift" and "It's Only Love That Gets You Through" expose Sade's voice at its most vulnerable--and appealing.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are due in stores Tuesday.

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