Imagine Sade nodding off mid-performance — not hard to do, given her narcoleptic singing — and her band thumping on as she’s carried off stage. The results might sound like Sweetback, an offshoot project from the male members of Sade (keyboardist Andrew Hale, guitarist-saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, and bassist Paul Spencer Denman). Although the album is half instrumental, the trio adhere to the same trance-inducing sambas of Sade records, complete with come-hither saxes and island-breeze rhythms. Even songs with vocals — Maxwell’s falsetto serenade ”Softly Softly” and rapper Bahamadia’s I-am-woman strut ”Au Natural” — don’t disrupt the album’s warm, late-night ambiance.
Fortunately, Sweetback weren’t content to make a Sade album without their frontwoman. They’ve also integrated innovative dance-club styles — like trip-hop and dub — into their penthouse make-out music. Even when the combination seems like a bland, co-opted version of the pure thing (”Cloud People” verges perilously close to techno John Tesh), Sweetback accomplish something much more beguiling: They make cutting-edge burp-and-grind beats sound romantic, even seductive. B