Monday, November 28, 2011

Seal's Funk-Gospel Masterpiece - Welcome To The Church Of Seal: Seal IV

The Good: Amazing voice, Great lyrics, Wonderful music, Impressive all around
The Bad: Thematically overbearing at times, Some very predictable rhymes
The Basics: With memorable melodies, Seal's distinct voice and explosively emotive lyrics, IV is Seal's masterpiece and an album worth your time and attention.

It's chic to say that "Kiss From A Rose" is Seal's best song. I've been listening to Seal's albums for a few days now and it would be easy to read those reviews and come to believe that I do not like Seal. The truth is, I've enjoyed the singles Seal put on the radio, I've just found his albums to be disappointing. All of that changed today when I took in IV (or Seal IV, this man has some serious problems with titling his albums!). Wow!

My first comment is that IV is that it is the truest casualty of the whole "Single Rapper" music movement. 2003 was dominated by single rappers (#1 for the year were by: Eminem, B2K, Jennifer Lopez, 50 Cent, Sean Paul, Clay Aiken -okay, he's not!, Beyonce, Nelly, Ludacris and OutKast). Seal is not a rapper, is not selling his breasts and was not on "American Idol." As a result, he is a casualty of the state of pop music at the time. IV peaked at #3 and none of the tracks on IV peaked at over 79 in the U.S. This is why the United States is said to have no taste or culture.

IV is Seal's masterpiece, containing his best written, most intensely emotional songs to date. For those who keep track of my reviews (and therefore, my views), you might note that Seal's masterpiece is also the work where his lyrics have the greatest expression of religious faith. Indeed, he opens the album with "Get It Together," an exhortation to "Pray to God / Or whatever you do." The thing is, Seal here is both direct, not pushing a Christian-only agenda (he cries out for faith and belief in man more than any specific religious expression) and he makes incredible music while proselytizing. Seal here creates an effective blend of pop, funk and gospel that works.

Seal was truly robbed by the fact that IV contains two of the best singles in recent memory, certainly better than the drecht Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and 50 Cent were charting while he was trying to plug them on the radio. "Love's Divine" might well be a perfect song and the follow-up, "Waiting For You" is easily as distinct a single as Seal's smash "Kiss From A Rose" which won him the Grammy.

With twelve tracks, IV clocks in at 52 minutes and the truth is, not one of those minutes is bad. The musical and emotional journey Seal takes the listener on in IV is impressive. More than faith in the divine, this album is preaching the power of love. On "Love's Divine," Seal cries out, "I need love / Love's divine / Help me now I see that I was blind / Love will see me through." It's a powerful musical moment when those lines are delivered by Seal's melodic voice.

And on "Waiting For You," Seal rocks. His voice peaks over the orchestra (there is a programmed recording of strings, horns and a choir!) in the declarative refrain of a man waiting for his lover. This is what was missing from Hu manbe in g! Seal is emotive, powerful and his vocals cry out with distinction, articulating his message. And his message is love. Love is something powerful and here he sings it as he sees it.

Seal lives up to the potential visited upon the listener in his first single, "Crazy" and he takes the vocals to a whole new level on IV. Songs like "Heavenly (Good Feeling)" push his range downward and it's impressive how strong he can present as a baritone. Moreover, when he modulates from the lower range to his mid to higher-range in the refrain it's impressive.

Seal wrote or co-wrote all twelve tracks on the album and it seems as if he has grown as a writer. For the most part. Most of the lyrics are more sophisticated than his previous endeavors. On one or two tracks, he is using disturbingly obvious rhymes like "stare/hair," "together/forever," "straight/relate," etc. ("Get It Together"). For the most part, though his rhymes are more surprising and less predictable.

As well, on IV Seal plays instruments. On a few of the later songs, he plays bass, guitars and/or keyboards. He does it quite well and I'm honestly impressed to see him coming into his own as an artist. He creates a unique sound and the leap from writing lyrics and singing them to also writing and performing the music he sings is a great step forward. His hard work clearly pays off on this endeavor. Seal should have been an oasis in a marketplace dominated by overproduction the year IV was released, but for some reason those listening to the radio could not handle the soothing tones of Seal. Our loss.

Thematically, IV might be a little overbearing for those of us who are not big into expressions of religious faith. Notably, "Where There's Gold" which repeatedly urges the listener pray with lines like, "When there's no place left to roam / Follow your heart to bring you home / If you've taken all the beating you can take / You can lift your head and pray." While this is problematic, it's not a dealbreaker, even for me.

Seal's fourth studio album, IV brings the artist into his own crafting a unique blend of pop, funk and gospel sounds to make something truly different from the mainstream. The best track is "Love's Divine," which might well be a perfect song. The low point is "Where There's Gold."

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


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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