Friday, March 13, 2009

Seal's Soul

It was panned by critics. Labeled an innocuous collection, even an unnecessary record. But innocuous and unnecessary to whom?

True, Seal is the not the first to resurrect classic hits we have all come to love--Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton, Queen Latifa, even Amy Winehouse have all done so. Perhaps this alone was reason for skeptics to be wary of Seal's most recent offering, SOUL.  They suspected that because the artist's 2007 album SYSTEM did not take off, Seal desperately went the tried and tested rout of recording covers. Forget that the project was placed in the hands of mega producer David Foster and that the singer was backed-up by a full orchestra; concept alone, the album seemed to mirror an artist's creative drought.

Add to this the fact that Seal chose to remake a playlist of the most iconic, soulful tunes: Sam Cooke's A CHANGE IS GONNA COME, James Brown's IT'S A MAN'S MAN'S WORLD, the Impressions' PEOPLE GET READY, Ben E. King's STAND BY ME, oh the inventory continues. Not only have these songs been covered too often, none of the remakes can ever outshine the originals. Besides, Seal's versions do not exactly stray too far from the first cuts.

But do these observations make Seal's SOUL, soulless?

Strangely enough, most of those whom I know have heard the album, fancy it.  Funky and groovy, it is also intense and almost brooding. On one hand, the music conjures images of classic Corvettes careening through hot stretches of desert road. On the other, smoky bars with ladies in big skirts and huge hairdos clinging to to their men and shuffling to some slow rock. You can shimmy to the music, bounce to it, snap your fingers or click your heels. Seal's SOUL possesses a range of rhythms that will make you sway and swoon.

So do I think the album has tired concept? Perhaps. But it is especially tired for a unique group of listeners (well-researched music critics, for instance) who have religiously followed the music of Al Green, Otis Redding, and all these blues greats who have defined the genre. But to the greater majority of us who no longer recognize these names but can instantly recognize great music, Seal's album will satisfy. The arrangements are rich (and faithful to the originals), the interpretations are sincere, and the voice, full of yearning soul.

Here is one of the tracks, A CHANGE IS COMING:

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