Music

Seal: System

And what is the end result? A fairly typical Seal album, just one that makes you dance a little more!


Seal

System

Label: Warner Brothers
US Release Date: 2007-11-13
UK Release Date: 2007-11-12
Amazon
iTunes

Over the course of a career that’s spanned 15 years and some change, Seal has crafted an image as an ethereal balladeer. His rough-hewn soulful croon has contrasted nicely with his music over the years. A music which has mostly comprised tasteful mid-tempo pop and beautifully orchestrated moodier cuts that hint at new age and dream-pop textures. After four increasingly lush Trevor Horn-produced albums, you’ve gotta figure that it was time for Seal to try something a little different. So Seal’s new record, System, is a departure if you’re familiar only with Seal’s more recent or more popular music.

If you’re a fan of his earliest work, including the hit single “Crazy” and his guest turn on Adamski’s “Killer”, then this album will be a refreshing step back in time. It’s an album powered by driving, electronic beats the likes of which he hasn’t explored heavily since his classic 1991 debut. For the first time ever, the man behind the boards is not former Yes-man Horn. Stuart Price, who is best known for helping Madonna out on “Confessions on a Dance Floor”, helms the production of this album. Price updates Seal’s sound to a degree, but the sonic changes doesn’t take away from Seal’s warm vocals and intelligent lyrics. And what is the end result? A fairly typical Seal album, just one that makes you dance a little more!

If you (like me) have a terrible allergy to most current dance music, then have no fear. Although the beats are tough and contemporary, System can boast of a couple of things that the average 21st century collection of club anthems would lack. That is a top notch vocalist and lyrics (as opposed to chants…wait, we can throw melody in there too). It’s thinking-person’s dance music, with mental and emotional resonance as opposed to the thump-thump-release that makes most contemporary dance completely useless once you step off the dance floor.

If I can bring Madonna up again in this review (and I can’t promise I won’t do it again), this album sounds like a much more successful fusion of electric and acoustic musical textures that Madge has been exploring for the past decade or so. The songs would work either way. It would be very easy to replace the pulsing synthesizers of several songs with acoustic guitars (or even loud rock guitars in a couple of cases, if Seal so desired).

Of course, Seal has become much more known over the past couple of years for his non-musical endeavors, which include marrying and impregnating supermodel extraordinaire Heidi Klum. One thing that might interest rubbernecks is the fact that Heidi actually sings on this album. No, seriously, Heidi sings on this album. And the song’s not bad. Besides, if you’re gonna make a song called “Wedding Song”, wouldn’t it make sense to have the bride onboard for the proceedings? Truthfully, Heidi doesn’t embarrass herself as a vocalist, although she can’t hold a candle to her hubby. It’s a touching duet, and Heidi is at least as good a vocalist as fellow model/singer Naomi Campbell.

There’s plenty more ear candy to be found on System. The ethereal vibe of most of Seal’s lyrics gives this album an atmospheric, almost trance-like feel that‘s reminiscent of some of the best early ‘80s dance music. The propulsive “The Right Life” is a prime example of this sound, with a feel very similar to Madonna‘s “Get Together“ (by far the best song on the mediocre Confessions). “Loaded“ is another winner, with an ‘80s style synthesizer breakdown that could have come off of an old Yaz record. “Dumb” is another monster entirely. It’s the strangest track on the album, with a mix of jangly acoustic guitar and hand-clappy percussion that suggests…well, I’m not sure what it’ll suggest to YOU, but it reminds ME of something from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Just to mix things up so that fans of Seal’s more adult contemporary music don’t run away screaming, the album closes with the signature shimmering ballad “Rolling” and the dream-like “Immaculate“. These are the two songs that sound most like…well, not the old Seal, but the most widely known Seal.

Seal’s always been a little more edgy than your average adult contemporary superstar. So while a Josh Groban or Michael Buble fan (or even a James Blunt fan) might be taken aback by the slightly more electronic flavor of an album like System, most fans of Seal will accept this album as yet another strong entry in his eminently listenable catalog. Despite the album having a bit of a different texture than his past couple, it’s still atmospheric and soothing. Granted, if you were there from day one, then System will probably not come as a surprise to you at all.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image