System

Seal

Warner Brothers, 2007

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/30/2009

Seal is one of those artists who pretty much does one thing, but does it exceptionally well.  There’s little subtlety to his music – for the most part it’s as big and bold and stylized as his voice – but the complete package is undeniably powerful.  Throbbing beats, sweeping ballads, soulful vocals and lyrics full of sincere if occasionally overblown melodrama – these are the building blocks of the sound Seal has rarely varied across his nearly two-decade career.

His 2007 disc System was positioned by some in the mainstream media as a “comeback,” which is fairly laughable, since he never went away.  Yes, the long gaps between his albums and a relative dearth of hits after 1994’s second self-titled disc had moved him back into the middle of the pack stardom-wise, but he was still a respected, solidly successful working artist when his marriage to supermodel Heidi Klum suddenly thrust him into the tabloid spotlight.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Given the man’s innate sense of drama – it drips from every line of ballads like “Rolling” – it should be no surprise, then, that Seal doesn’t hesitate to sprinkle a little Heidi dust over this album by inviting her to duet with him on the sweetly pulsing “Wedding Day.”  Ah, but in this instance he comes out smelling like one of the roses he so famously used to kiss, because – quel suprise – (a) Heidi’s voice isn’t half bad, and (b) their duet is cleverly arranged so as to maximize its impact while keeping Seal’s voice out front most of the time.

The moments where this album really shines for me, though, are the ones where Seal reaches back for the throbbing dance floor magic he captured more than once in the early days.  “If It’s In My Mind, It’s On My Face” opens with an airy first verse and chorus before dropping into a beat designed to get hips aswiveling anytime, anywhere.  “Amazing” goes synth-heavy in support of a throbbing, soaring, inspirational tune that – like most of Seal’s strongest tracks – is simply made to played loud.  Producer Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers) clearly took notes on the punchy, spacious production Trevor Horn achieved on Seal’s first four studio discs and, to his credit,  doesn’t mess with the template much (if it ain’t broke…). 

Other highlights include the ringing “Just Like Before,” with its mountain-high vocal arrangement; the densely layered title track, whose percussive loops build to an indelibly catchy chorus; “Dumb,” whose awkward lyric is overcome by its dynamic acoustic guitar-synthesizer interplay; and the lush, propulsive “The Right Life,” a house track with a big heart.

Seal doesn’t break much new ground with System, but when building an album around an instrument as powerful and distinctive as his voice, there’s not much to be gained by experimentation for experimentation’s sake.  Yes, the perfectionist production can get a bit sterile at times, but it’s so crisp and dramatic when you turn it up, it’s like champagne for the ears.  This album isn’t likely to change anyone’s world, but it’s a solid Seal album, and with a talent as big as his, that’s often enough.

Rating: B

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© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.