Ladies and gentlemen, Seal gets funky.
Seal has managed to remain one of the more iconoclastic and idiosyncratic artists out there, despite his mass-market success with songs like "Kiss From A Rose". His music remains accessible yet unique, a rich blend of soul, R&B, and pop with occasional other influences. He started out in acid and house music, he's played blues, he's dabbled in world music -- but until Seal IV, we had never seen the Funky Seal in action. I guess it must have been time, because he kicks out quite a few jams on his latest effort.
As always, the producer is Trevor Horn, and Horn's crisp, sharp style fits Seal's smooth and stylish vocal style to a T. Horn also proves himself to be capable of handling Seal's changing sound. What is different about IV is hard to define; we've already used the term funky, and that definitely applies on songs like "Get It Together", with its Sly and the Family Stone backbeat, and "Don't Make Me Wait", with a stately piano providing a counterpoint to Seal's gospel-tinged vocals. Another word might be brighter; this may be the most upbeat Seal has ever been, and it's a huge change after the ambient and moody Human Being, his last release. "Let Me Roll" is damn near a rock song, with a doo-wop baritone harmony vocal, Abbaesque string hits, and a punchy drum line. On the other hand, there are songs in the more traditional Seal groove, wistful and ethereal -- "My Vision", "Loneliest Star", and "Touch" are good examples.
Seal even tries his hand at almost-reggae on "Where There's Gold", and does just fine, thanks. "Heavenly…" is a typical Seal power soul number with an almost numinous feel to it, gorgeous soaring vocals providing a glorious centerpiece. Finally, almost casually, he throws off "Waiting For You", which is one of the most powerful singles I've ever heard and deserves a lot more airplay than it's getting.
The balance that Seal has struck is notable; he's kept the core of the sound that first grabbed us with "Crazy", twelve years ago, but he's added elements as he's grown in maturity and skill. Seal IV is a truly special album, and not to be missed; a fine effort by an artist I suspect will be remembered as one of the greatest of our time.