Written by Chris Richards

The conference room at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Baltimore is oppressively taupe. Taupe walls, taupe chairs, taupe tablecloths. Pull back the taupe curtains and enjoy the view: a taupe building made of taupe bricks.

"It's a bit grim in here, isn't it?" asks Sade. 

Casually dressed in red denim, red lipstick, a red satin jacket and silver hoop earrings big enough to shoot basketballs through, she beelines for a switch on the wall and dims the lights. Soft. Softer. Off.

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As she takes a seat in the afternoon sunlight, those reds seem to glow like cosmic embers. At 52, one of the most magnetic singers of our time sips lukewarm coffee from a paper cup and tries to explain how music's inexplicable gravity pulled her out of a nine-year silence.

"It's that feeling that you can get a little bit better," she says. "That there's somewhere to go and you haven't expressed it all."

Sade — who performs at Verizon Center on Wednesday — is referring to her 2010 album Soldier of Love, her first public moment since finishing off a world tour in 2001 and retreating to her home in Glouces­ter­shire, England, to give her young daughter, Ila, her undivided attention.

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Her invisibility solidified her reputation as the great sphinx of modern R&B, but Soldier of Love stands as Sade's most expressive album. She describes its creation as both "a mission" and "a spiritual experience" — a John Coltrane-ish pursuit of a sound that comes from within, yet remains forever out of reach.

"I think I'm getting better at letting it out," she says. "When I'm in the studio, my guard is down. I don't have any feeling that I should be protecting myself in any way — which is good, because then I can say it like it is."

Sade's faithful fans kept Soldier of Love at the top of the Billboard albums chart for three consecutive weeks last year, but the singer says that dropping her guard for those same fans in real time is far more difficult. Recounting the April launch of her world tour in France, she describes the moment she stepped back onstage as "a mixture of elation and fear."

And afterward?

"I was just relieved that it was over," she says. "Relieved that it was a success."

Listen to her sing and it's difficult to locate the point when Sade's voice ends and silence begins. Her thoughts unspool in a similar fashion. She chooses her words carefully, speaks in fragments, but with great warmth. Then halts.

"Radio interviews are really snappy and I'm just bad at that," she says of the conversation before this one. "I just close down … I get a reputation of being a smack addict or something because I'm just not snappy."

Read the rest of this article at the Washington Post.