City Paper is not for tourists
In the liner notes to Seal’s 1994 album, Seal (not to be confused with Seal’s 1991 album, Seal), the 6-foot-4 British crooner of Nigerian-Brazilian descent explains why he never includes the lyrics to his pop-soul tunes: “[Q]uite often, my songs mean one thing to me and another to the listener….So it is your perception of what I’m saying rather than what I actually say that is the key.”
The first time I read those lines, I was willing to give the bald and beautiful one the benefit of the doubt: His irresistible debut album was the primary soundtrack to my final years of college, and his follow-up effort found me working at my first nametagless job and living in an apartment that actually had more than one room. On each of these discs, despite the vacuous lyrics and dollops of smarmy sentimentality, Seal managed to mix slow, sexy soundscapes and dance-floor rave-ups with a healthy dose of hooks and grooves. Sure, their appeal was situationallike how you’ll always enjoy the song that was playing the first time you got laid (“Midnight Blue,” Lou Gramm)but something told me Seal and Seal were damn good music, too.
Unfortunately, the time has come to call Sealhenry Samuel’s bluff: On the new Human Being, his third album in seven years, the 35-year-old has unveiled a frightfully serious endeavor that plays like 52 minutes of soothing white noise. He has absolutely nothing to say, and, to make matters worse, he’s now relying almost completely on his words. (Full disclosure: OK, so this album finds me once again living in a one-room apartment, but so what? I can still be happy, can’t I?) Gone are the sex and strut that oozed from such trademark tunes as “Crazy” and “Killer”; what we have now is a Hallmark card written by Deepak Chopra. Human Being is the ultimate in frustration: We waited four years for this?
Kind of like the What Dreams May Come of pop music, Human Being overdoses on lush, tropical sounds and clever production, but its overall message and turgid pace will have you sacked out by Track 2. “Latest Craze,” a disco countdown that never lifts off, and “Excerpt From,” which echoes “Crazy”‘s buildup but not its friendly chorus, feature the only hard beats on the disc, but they’re not exactly get-up-and-dance tracks, either. In fact, the boldest move made on the album is the cover art: A glistening, butterball-naked Seal, buffed like a bodybuilder and posed like a scoliotic Wicked Witch of the West, reaches into green ether with long Arsenio Hall-length fingers. (And you were surprised when Tyra Banks went out with this guy?) But don’t be fooled by the angry scowl on his scarred mug: He’s not pissed, and he’s certainly not ready to kick any ass. No, folks, Seal is frightenedof mortality, of heartache, of himself. He’s paralyzed by existence, and yet can’t stop pondering the meaning of it all. (My two-bit advice for career salvation? Stand up and fight life like a man. God knows you’re tall enough.)
Earlier songs like Seal’s “The Beginning” and Seal’s “Bring It On” (tell you what, I’ll let you figure it out) proved that Seal and slick-heavy producer Trevor Horn were progenitors of the layman’s electronica that bubbled so ephemerally to the upper echelons of the Billboard charts. The music was first of all fun, second of all catchy, and it never became more sober than thought-of-the-day deep. But Seal turned his back on the Top 40-techno revolution and has instead taken the spirit of such flat tires as “Kiss From a Rose” and outdone them in wishy-washiness (something I once thought impossible).
This is how the album opener, “Human Beings,” begins: “It is only love I feel/That will give us peace of heart.” Not too long after this, you realize the sole difference between Seal and Jewel is that, sadly, only one of them enjoys getting naked on an album cover. “Just Like You Said,” “Princess,” and “When a Man Is Wrong,” all letters of apology to soon-to-be-past lovers, are nearly indistinguishable from one another: Seal takes his sorrys higher and higher, while the acoustic guitar stays stationary and the keyboards swell to bursting.
Again, the album sounds quite lovelyHorn is masterful at layering warm blankets of sound over and under Seal’s woolly vocalsbut without a single sing-along chorus or a get-loose track, there’s nothing to hold on to, and no reason to go back for repeat listens (unless, of course, you’re an insomniac). And because the message is often so bleakyes, love is worth it, but at a torturous pricethis album doesn’t even qualify as a romance builder. (However, I’m pretty sure “Midnight Blue” is still available on K-Tel.) Who knows? Maybe Seal should have called his third album Seal. Obviously, Human Being was too deep a concept.CP