Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Perhaps Like Star Trek Movies, Seal Hits On The Even Numbers: Seal II

The Good: Exceptional voice, Good poetic lyrics, Decent Music
The Bad: One or two unremarkable tracks, Why can't Seal name an album?!
The Basics: With wonderful vocals and instrumentals, Seal's second eponymous album (Seal or II) has some of his strongest work, including some surprising greats he never charted with.

Some days ago, I was writing a review and I decided I would no longer recommend any album from an artist who has a Best of album when the best tracks on an album were already on the Best of album. Seal's second album, eponymous like the first album, but commonly known as Seal II, is in no danger of that. Having now listened to the four primary albums (Seal, II, Hu manbe in g, and IV), I'm contemplating picking up Seal's Greatest Hits. One of the few arguments against making that purchase is the strength of II.

With only eleven tracks, clocking in at barely over 50 minutes, II is perhaps the most hit-loaded of Seal's album outside the Greatest Hits. "Kiss From A Rose" arguably made more money than Batman Forever (after all the lawsuits were settled anyway), and is inarguably a better artistic work. "Kiss From A Rose" also won Seal Grammy Awards and worldwide acclaim. II features "Kiss From A Rose" as well as the radio-represented singles "Prayer For The Dying" and "Don't Cry," which I was surprised to learn did not perform terribly well on the charts.

Unlike Seal's debut Seal, II establishes this artist as a vocal sensation as opposed to relying on the synthesizers and funk sound instrumentals to sell him and his work. The result is somewhat less experimental, but more consistent and of a higher overall caliber. Unlike the endeavor that immediately followed, Hu manbe in g, the songs are distinctive enough that track to track, this is an album that holds up well and does not merely hypnotize the listener in one unending loop.

What that means is that II is a musical journey from track to track and while the tracks have a generally more orchestral sound to them (a la "Kiss From A Rose" and "Don't Cry"), the music is mixed in with dance tracks ("I'm Alive"), straight rock and roll ("Bring It On") and a duet with Joni Mitchell ("If I Could"). The general feel and sound of II is a very soulful pop-rock. The strength of Seal's vocals where he sings in an articulate, controlled bellow make his sound definitive and reminiscent of what many associate with gospel music or soul. Indeed, in "I'm Alive" he references some obvious Christian imagery (blood on the cross).

As I mentioned, I would not recommend this album if all of the best songs were on the Greatest Hits. While the later compilation has "Prayer For The Dying," "Don't Cry," and of course, "Kiss From A Rose," it does not have "Dreaming In Metaphors," a powerful and smart track that comes near the beginning of the album. It's far too rare that a musical artist actually explores psychology in their music, but Seal appears to do that with his cry of "Why must we dream in metaphors / Why are we holding on to / Something we couldn't understand . . ."

Like the majority of Seal's works, II is arguably the executed vision of Seal as the artist. Seal wrote or co-wrote all eleven tracks, so the lines he sings are largely his own. Similarly, the music was written by Seal, indicating that this is the sound Seal wanted to present. Seal is listed as a musician on the album, but it is not made clear what instrument he is playing (arguably he played some guitars on the work). While he is not given any form of production credit, he has created a body of work on II that arguably encapsulates his vision and the emotions and ideas that he wants to express.

And what is it he is trying to express? He expressed a desire for understanding the world around him and to connect with something more. In short, he - without preaching any one religion explicitly - is calling for a renewed, new spirituality. As he sings "I'm crossing that bridge / With lessons I've learned / I'm playing with fire / But not getting burned / I may not know what you're going through / But time is the space between me and you / . . . 'Cause life carries on . . ." ("Prayer For The Dying") it's difficult not to see that this is a man who has some strong sense of place, time and the consequences of life experience.

This is a remarkably strong album for all audiences, though the level of vocal sophistication and depth of emotions expressed will likely be appreciated more by adults. Seal does not devote a lot of time on making his music catchy and none of the songs has a real "hook." Instead, his smooth vocals articulate stories of genuine universal emotion. This is a dense album and while it is highly contemplative, it is not depressing. Mellow is probably the best word for the majority of the tracks.

And while "Kiss From A Rose" endures well beyond the movie for which it was written, it is an easy gate into II. If you enjoyed the melodic power of that single, II offers a lot to you as a listener. If nothing else, this album illustrates that the creative vocal and lyrical talents that created that song were not a fluke, but rather the tip of a genuine talent's potential.

The music nicely uses atypical instruments, like the full orchestra sound on "Kiss From A Rose." The only place I found this at all bothersome was the opening to "Fast Changes" that starts with light woodwinds and just fell flat with its rhymes and sounds compared to the relative quality of the other tracks.

Otherwise, if one needed to get a Seal album, it's hard to leap right to the Greatest Hits when the best track on II is the articulate, poetic imagery of "Dreaming In Metaphors." "Fast Changes" is the weak link in the album.

For other works by Seal, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
“Crazy” (single)
Hu manbe in g
Seal IV


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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