CD Review of System by Seal
Recommended if you like
Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox,
Simply Red
Warner Bros.
Seal: System

Reviewed by David Medsker


hen Seal dropped 2003’s Seal IV, his third self-titled album and fourth album overall, it was clear that he and uber-producer Trevor Horn needed to go their separate ways. The once-fresh blend of electronics, folk and soul that made Seal a megastar in the early ‘90s now sounded stale, especially in comparison to the skittery, rhythm-heavy production work of the then-ubiquitous Neptunes. It’s surprising to think that Seal would even be willing to work with Horn for a fourth time after making the aimless Human Being in 1998 – especially when you consider that most artists work with Horn only once – but Seal, for whatever reason, was convinced at the time that Horn was the only producer for him. Huh.

Seal’s latest album, the “Amazing Race”-endorsed System, has Stuart Price, the artist formerly known as Jacques Lu Cont, at the boards (Price released an album under the Lu Cont name in 1999, calling his band Les Rythmes Digitales after seeing the success that the French house artists were having), and while the change is a good one, it doesn’t quite solve the problem. The sound is more contemporary, but Seal’s new songs feel like streamlined versions of his old songs, hitting the same beats and notes but lacking the intangibles that made his first two self-titled albums so intriguing.

This is not to say the songs are bad, per se. On the contrary, “Just Like Before” and “Wedding Day” – a duet with wife Heidi Klum, awwww – are perfectly pleasant, and “Dumb,” with its acoustic guitar and stylish dance beatz, could play to the club crowd as well as the coffeehouse crowd. They are, however, missing one crucial ingredient: substance. Seal’s earlier songs – “Dreaming in Metaphors,” “Deep Water” and “If I Could,” to name but three – were so powerful that they didn’t just stay in your head but they touched your soul. The songs of System, on the other hand, leave no such impression. They come and go like ghosts. Pleasant ghosts, but ghosts just the same.

But don’t cry for Seal, Argentina. He’s married to a supermodel, has two children, and is probably happier now than he’s ever been. The cynic in me would argue that that is the reason his songwriting has suffered, but it is not his responsibility or obligation to set his happiness aside for our benefit. He’s making the best music he can, and while it is no match for his first two albums, it at least beats the hell out of Human Being. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, true, but there you go.

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