Seal has never been a stranger to dancefloors or club sounds, and it was the crossover success of his collaboration with Adamski, "Killer," back in 1990, that provided the ramp-up for his first ZTT record, with Trevor Horn at the knobs, Wendy and Lisa helping out in the studio, and the international megahit "Crazy" opening up a lot of doors. But what fascinates about Seal's dance impulses is that he's always kept the same cool and relaxed vibe in all his material- a friend mentioned that to make a frenetic hands-in-the-air big room anthem mix of a Seal song wouldn't make sense, and he was right- Seal is the master of smooth electronic, and in conjunction with producer Stuart Price, he's made the perfect 'brunch disco' album. It's up and energetic enough to keep aerobics classes moving and soccer moms puttering along, but not aggressive enough to send anyone into cracked-out heart palpitations. It's a remarkable achievement, and Price and Seal, together, knock it out of the park.
This feels like a perfect companion piece to Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor album, such is Price's consistency as a producer and programmer. But lyrically, it remains all Seal, who knows something about consistency after seventeen years doing that smooth symphonic digital soul thing that he does. "Immaculate" feels the most like traditional Seal (i.e., Trevor Horn-like in its production), but the whole project feels thematically unified, and that's a relief for fans of adventurous dance albums.
Seal's wife, supermodel/Project Runway deity Heidi Klum, appears on the record on the duet "Wedding Day," which is much better than you might expect, though still kind of embarrassing- not in the 'oh, this is bad and they should be ashamed' kind of embarrassing, but more the 'this feels a tad too intimate and real to put in a pop song' embarrassing, if you dig. As a vocalist, Klum actually has a decent voice- on the continuum of models-turned-singers, with Naomi Campbell being at the weak end and Bijou Phillips at the strong end, she's more toward the Phillips end of the spectrum.
The first single, "Amazing," appears twice, in an original version and a 'Thin White Duke" Edit. Price did both of them, but the TWD version feels more 'up' and poppy/accessible, with a dominant keyboard line that feels like a mutant cousin to Bronski beat's synth hook for "Smalltown Boy" - but it's more of an echo than a rip. The Original version of "Amazing" feels like it could slip into electro at any moment, but it never does. Title track "System" has the most aggressive synthwork on the disc, and it fits perfectly with "Killer" as an example of political content and ass-shaking programming.
"Dumb" starts out with some scratchy guitar and builds up into some pleasant electro-thump. Lyrically, it's the only track on the album that feels silly (I couldn't help but think of the song from the Mormon education episode of South park during the chorus), but it's nowhere near as dumb as Madonna's "I Love New York," so take that as you will. It's built out of synth-snaps and easily digestible snatches of rhythm guitar, so the vibe of the lyrics is echoed in the sounds used.
"Loaded" simply screams for an Eric Prydz remix. The first time I heard it, I couldn't help but think of Prydz' mix of Pet Shop Boys' "Miracles," and at the very least there is a dynamite mash-up waiting to happen. Likewise, "The Right Life" screams out for a take-no-prisoners Ananda Project Mix (or whatever Chris Brann sees fit to call himself currently), it has the potential of being one of those early morning body-and-soul throwdowns that Brann and his House of Wamdue productions turn out beautifully- think his mixes of EBTG's "Temperamental" or k.d. lang's "Summerfling." Yeah, like that. Think slow motion volleyball on beaches as the sun rises and everybody has bellinis and mimosas and everyone's wearing white- that kind of vibe.
Those looking for a smooth and soothing club experience need look no further than this latest effort from Seal. Hundreds of unnecessary chillout compilations and lounge house mixes are no officially irrelevant, and once again, Sealhenry Samuel shows how yacht rock-smooth soul and electronic pop can play nice together.