I'm not the kind of person the music industry likes to see.
I'm not likely to go out and buy the latest Pearl Jam just as it rolls into the mall - quite the contrary, actually. My usual CD purchases tend to be releases so old the artist in question has stopped recording by now. Or worse, in the case of Jim Croce or Karen Carpenter. I did buy Michael Jackson's Thriller -- over a decade after its release. Also Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell -- a good eight years after it came out. I hear songs on the radio, and if they catch my ear while they're hot, and then later, maybe years later, they STILL grab me when they come on, well, ok. It's time to buy that one.
And so it was with SEAL II. Of course I had heard Kiss from a Rose, who hasn't? And Don't Cry as well, both of these songs were grabbers, hooking me in on their non-traditional chord progression structure. So I bought SEAL II one day, among a few other CDs I had held out on a while.
I can remember playing tracks 4-6 a lot at first, after all I knew 4 and 6 and Fast Changes between quickly became quite listenable. But something marvelous happened as I gave the other tracks more and more play, over time: ALL of them grabbed me. In each track there was more you could hear, in the lush orchestrations or the odd percussions, with every hearing. Not that everything isn't supporting roles for Seal's voice -- it is, and justifiably so. The clarity, power, SOUL of that voice, comfortable in either high or low range and always full of intense sincerity, should be the showcase and it always is. But I came to realize, on the 10th or 15th playing of track 3 (Metaphors) that everything else underneath is also exquisitely perfected. I'm not a musician myself so I still don't understand those rhythm structure, or those chord progressions. But it all belongs, it always adds, never detracts, and I don't know now, even after 50 plays or more, if I won't hear something new when I next play any one of the tracks from this awesome album. If I do, it won't be a false note, I know that much.
So. As SEAL II grew on me until it was practically the only thing I was listening to, and I became aware of the existence of Human Being (or Hu manBe in g as Seal spells it on the spine), I was driven to something I very seldom do. I won't say it's unprecedented, but nearly so: I bought a CD without ever hearing a single cut beforehand. (Only about a year after its release, too!) And unlike his previous album, Human Being I bought 'alone', without a pile of other artists to listen to at the same time.
Quickly spinning through once, I had that pit-of-stomach feeling I'd been had again. Seal was a one album number. (Yes, I know about SEAL I.) Only tracks 2 and 6 (State of Grace and Lost my Faith) seemed there at all. I played 2, 6, 2, 6 for a while and I felt a bunch better. The same mystifying thing was happening that never happened to me listing to a Seals and Crofts or Billy Joel album: every listening was bringing me more depth, more interest, and... more feeling. Seal's music is not to be dismissed on one hearing. I spun the whole thing again. Now 4 (Just Like You Said) is grabbing me. I'm thinking now that I should slow down, and let this album overwhelm me slowly, like the last one did. Maybe all at once is too much.
As of now (in my current reading of it), Human Being seems to be, not darker exactly, but sadder, than SEAL II was -- not as uplifting or as hopeful. I know Seal is pouring his personal soul and life into these releases - it's likely the main reason they take so long to get made - and so it seems he'd had a pretty trying 3 or 4 years. Too, his view of the external world seems darker than it was 8 years ago when SEAL II was being written. But the music hasn't suffered. From the minimalist accoustic pieces to the fully orchestrated reprise of the title track, Seal's power to grab you and submerse you remains. You do have to give him a chance. But in exchange for having to work a little - to really listen instead of just have it on while fixing dinner or something - you get a unique view, from inside his music. There's nobody out there like him, and my suggestion is: don't miss out on it.
-- Joeygray --