Sade's in the Perfect Groove for Romance, and Van Halen Pulls the Punch Lines : Check List **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

***SADE. "Stronger Than Pride." Epic.

As Johnny Mathis was to the '50s, so Sade is to the '80s. Like the man who provided the sound track for countless make-out sessions of the "I-Like-Ike" era, Sade creates the perfect groove for romance, and by the time this LP sways to a close, you'll know without a doubt that you've received a musical soul kiss.

Born in Nigeria and raised in England, Sade began her career in 1980 as a member of British funk group Pride and released her critically acclaimed, best-selling solo debut, "Diamond Life," in 1985. "Promise," the follow-up to that million seller, was an even bigger seller (2.5 million copies sold) but was cursed artistically with the sophomore jinx. In her third LP, Sade fulfills the promise of her stunning debut.

Essentially a nightclub singer, Sade works on an intimate scale and, like Nina Simone (whom she admires), understands the meaning of less is more. Singing in a low, throaty purr, Sade murmurs, growls and hums but never cuts loose for any grandstanding vocalese.

Subtle is the operative adjective with Sade, whose most immediately recognizable influence is the Brazilian Bossa Nova popular in America in the early '60s. As in that style of music, there's no visible strain in her singing, and while it must be said that her range is fairly narrow, what she does within those boundaries is exquisite.

It's impossible to separate the allure of this sultry music from the persona of the woman singing it, for Sade truly is a femme fatale of mythic dimension. A mysterious beauty, she's the untouchable goddess, beckoning and warm one minute, icy and utterly out of reach the next.

The nine songs on "Stronger Than Pride" add up to one long plea of desire, and as the album makes its way up the charts--as it surely will--armies of love-struck men will no doubt dream of losing themselves in Sade's quiet storm of passion.

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