First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
Soul music was graced with a rather lengthy golden era that stretched from the very late í50s through the mid-í70s, but as glossy production circumvented heartfelt passion, the genre took a turn for the worse. Thatís not to say that it didnít continue to inform the disco and R&B styles that supplanted it, but the unique stamp that each artist brought to the table was increasingly replaced with an endless stream of lifeless automatons. Each song sounded exactly like the next, and each album followed a formulaic approach that could have been recorded by anyone. There were exceptions, of course, but the gutsier outings were buried so far below the surface of the mainstream that one had to dig extraordinarily deep in order to find them.
More recently, there has been hope on the horizon. Over the course of the past decade, soul has been returning ever so slowly to its roots, thanks to artists like Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Seal, all of whom have turned to the past for inspiration while simultaneously maintaining a more contemporary approach to their craft. With the massive success of Macy Grayís superb On How Life Is, however, it suddenly became acceptable for soul artists to fully embrace their rich heritage.
Sealís IV is a logical extension of this trend, and throughout the album, he continues to roll back the passage of time by immersing himself within the sounds of the í60s and í70s. To his credit, itís something the British sensation has been gradually gravitating towards since his club/dance-infused debut in 1991, but this time, itís much more fully realized. As Get It Together, which bookends the album, begins, Seal sounds remarkably like Marvin Gaye. Elsewhere, he explores everything from Motown to Philly soul, blending modern and retro grooves with an eclectic air that assuredly soars, all the while weaving a loosely knit fabric of songs that bind both politics and relationships with the prismatic threads of love. Bits of Al Green, Ray Charles, and Teddy Pendergrass ó as well as Steve Winwood and Joe Cocker, for that matter ó trickle through the music, forming a sometimes stirring, sometimes soothing sequence of songs that embody the finer aspects of a Gamble-Huff project.
Unfortunately, not everything works, at least not entirely, with the tail-end of IV suffering the most from the genially commonplace contrivances of Loneliest Star, Heavenly...(Good Feeling), and Tinsel Town. None of these tunes is necessarily outside the scope of the rest of the album, yet, they also donít seem to come together with quite the inspiration and natural flow as songs like Waiting for You and Donít Make Me Wait. Still, itís nice to see Seal continuing to move the genre forward by also taking it backward, returning to its greatest strength. Indeed, soul should be full of soul, and IV has plenty of it. Ĺ
IV is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box