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All I Need: Amerie’s “Touch” Turns 10

Amerie in 2005.

Amerie in 2005

Theories of new leadership for the R&B female vanguard at the outset of the 2000’s rumble on today. After Aaliyah’s untimely death, a vacuum opened and many rushed to fill itBeyoncé ascended quickly.

Though there have always been the zeitgeist figures of any genre, usually it’s those under the surface of said genre that carry its current along. Singers like Mrs. Carter look to those currents for inspirationoften they translate their breakthroughs to a wider audience. The politics of this exchange will invoke ire, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Amerie Rogers was, and is, a strong current in modern R&B’s ocean.

Amerie snuggled in between hip-hop and neo-soul with her first album All I Have (2002). But, a decade ago many questioned if the voice behind that record was just an extension of its producer Rich Harrison. It was a misconception Amerie refuted with her sophomore LP.

The History

The biracial vocalistAmerie is of Korean and African-American descentwas the requisite “army brat” due to her father’s vocation with the United States government. By the time Amerie was exiting her teens, she had traveled extensively and would secure her higher education (via Georgetown University). However, music, literature, art and fashion remained her passions; she placed herself in a position to meet music heads of industry to pursue her dream.

Neophyte producer Rich Harrison, fresh off assignments for Mary BligeMary (1999) and No More Drama (2001)crossed paths with Amerie. The pairing had instant creative chemistry and Amerie’s debut All I Have (Columbia, 2002) was born. Held aloft by its single “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Pop #23) in the summer of 2002, Amerie made a splash with urban radio and its record buyers.

All I Have was a good starting point for Amerie and work slowly began on its follow-up. In the interim between Amerie’s first and second albums, Harrison ventured out for more production job opportunities. Harrison’s take on “go-go music,” its roots owed to the clubby Washington, D.C. flavored go-go, had found another voice to wield it, Amerie’s Columbia label mate Beyoncé.

Crazy in Love,” lifted from Beyoncé’s platinum busting Dangerously in Love (2003), made Harrison an overnight R&B knobtwirler hot property of the period. The reappropriated go-go vibe almost became cemented to Beyoncé’s sonic identity, despite Amerie fronting it just a year earlier.

Unmoved, Amerie reenlisted Harrison and set forth to achieve a sophomore strike.

The Record

Amerie's

Amerie’s “Touch” transformation

Amerie quietly went about writing 10 of the 11 cuts that comprised her second LP, Touch―international versions boasted “Man Up” (with Nas) and an ambitious Diana Ross cover (“I’m Coming Out”).

This dramatic turn-around was a large leap of progression as Amerie had no writing input on Touch’s preceding record.

Amerie and Harrison steered Touch with additional production / writing from a wealth of mainstream and underground talent: Bink!, Lil’ Jon, The Buchanans, Red Sypda, Dre & Vidal, Cory Rooney, Sean Garrett and Bryce Wilson (formerly of Mantronix and Groove Theory). Touch split its sound across uptempos and downtempos.

The former batch were led by the gorgeous, but percussive “1 Thing”. Utilizing a brainy interpolation of “Oh, Calcutta!” by The Meters, Amerie took back the sound she put on the scene. Yet, “1 Thing’s” melodic femininity held a confidence and control (vocally) that heretofore she had not shown.

Subsequent shakers were meaty (the title song, “Not the Only One,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout”), but they lacked that sweet underpinning which made “1 Thing” addictive. Thankfully, later elevated excursions on her third and fourth records juggled production and performance energy evenly.

The latter category of ballads is where Touch highlighted Amerie’s refined taste in samples: “All I Need” (Jean Carne’s “You Are All I Need”), “Rolling Down My Face”  (Roy Ayers’ “Searching”) and “Can We Go” (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Evil). Amerie reinterpreted them all with a refreshing spin. In particular, “Can We Go” (the sole Harrison penned number) was a cascading duet with crooner Carl Thomas that captured Amerie’s sensitive side superbly. 

With the stated 11 tracks, excusing an unnecessary “1 Thing” remix with Eve, Touch platformed Amerie’s own personality.

The Impact

The Touch LP cover

The Touch LP cover

“1 Thing” ushered in the “new Amerie” to critics and record buyers. It was a hit: U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Pop #8, U.K. #4.

“1 Thing” became Amerie’s signature tune and netted a Grammy nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” in 2006. Additionally, it was one of the inaugural digital singles to be awarded with a platinum certification by the RIAA.

It didn’t hurt that “1 Thing” was the theme to the Will Smith rom-com ‘Hitch’ giving it a larger pop audience. Its parent recording Touch landed on 4/26/15 to favor on the charts: U.S. Billboard 200 #2, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #1, U.K. #28.

Critically, Amerie’s maneuver to take hold of her artistic affairs paid off.

Vibe Magazine’s Angie Romero opined:

The brash soul samples, horns and hard club beats on the lead single, “1 Thing,” are an excellent preview of Touch’s sonic flair.

Rolling Stone writer Bill Werde elaborated further:

Currently booming from jeeps in a neighborhood near you, Amerie’s “1 Thing” is an early front-runner for “song-of-the-summer” status. Amerie is all grown up on her second effort. And in this case, growth is good.

The corresponding music video for “1 Thing” also announced a visually alert Amerie. Her love of high fashion and pop culture (notice the nod to the Elvis Presley ‘68 Comeback Special’  concert) were very much present. She wasn’t just a pretty face, her ideas for conception, creation and execution extended from the lyric notepad, to her closet and the director’s chair.

“1 Thing”

Directed By: Chris Robinson and Amerie

Touch reached gold certification in the United States with 406,000 copies moved as of it last certification in June 2009. It spun off two additional singles during its original lifespan in 2005: “Touch” (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19) and “Talkin’ ‘Bout” (U.S. R&B Bubbling Under #2). The LP  garnered Amerie a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” Grammy bid in 2006 along with the aforementioned “1 Thing” nomination.

Amerie should have had an easy ride with Columbia Records because of Touch’s victory. Sadly, trouble had already appeared during the second record’s formative period .

The label wasn’t ready to cooperate with Amerie’s new outlook for her career; the singer later revealed that Columbia had fought her on the decision to move forward with “1 Thing” as the album’s first single. The other selections pulled from Touch received little-to-no push. The exquisite LPs that followed Touch had stalled sales because of major label indifference: Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007) and In Love & War (Island / Def Jam, 2009).

Since abdicating from A&R politics after her fourth record, the singer / songwriter / producer / arranger has been hard at work on her fifth LP, Cymatika. The long player’s title draws from the term cymatics, the scientific study of visible sound and vibrations. Various pieces have been shared by Amerie from the forthcoming effort since 2011; last year’s “What I Want” was the most exciting taster thus far.

Amerie scaled cerebral heights with her third and fourth albums, but it all began with Touch. Amerie’s chrysalis instituted there allowed her to be reborn as one of those mentioned driving currents in modern R&B. Her influence is very present in the women of that genre. Listen closely. Ranking: Semi-classic

[Editor’s Note: Touch is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Amerie, visit her official website.-QH]

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Lisa Stansfield: From “Affection” to “Seven”

Lisa Stansfield in 2014

Lisa Stansfield today

The lineage of women who have carried the torch of “blue-eyed soul” is storied. Rochdale reared Lisa Stansfield’s tenure has always been beloved, if sometimes undervalued. It’s a shame as Stansfield’s romantically rich tone keeps her alongside Dusty Springfield and Teena Marie respectfully.

In retrospect, Stansfield’s soul roots weren’t what she first planted when she tried to breach the music marketplace. Forming in 1984, Blue Zone’s first (and only) recording (Big Thing, 1988) seemed precipice-poised for success. Comprised of Stansfield and instrumentalists Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, the trio might’ve been too similar in style to an already crowded sophisti-pop and house music scene.

Appearing on one of those mentioned British dance cliques tracks in 1989, Stansfield graced “People Hold On”.  The outfit was called Coldcut and their single with Stansfield caused a delicious stir. “People Hold On” restored faith in Stansfield at her label base―via Blue Zone―Arista Records. She inked a solo deal with the company.

Graciously stepping behind her, Devaney and Morris took up production and co-writing duties; the upshot of this union produced Lisa Stansfield’s debut Affection.

If one were to remark on the renaissance of English soul and dance that sprang from the ether in 1989, the year Affection appeared, it’d be with fondness. Two indisputable anthems materialized from this era that crossed barriers: Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” (with Caron Wheeler as the lead vocalist) and Stansfield’s “All Around the World”. The latter hit like a hurricane on both sides of the pond.

Suddenly, the classy, down to earth lass became one of the faces of the U.K. soul music revolution. Affection, of its time, was tempered in the flames of (black) dance and new jack swing, but with an approachability that endeared listeners across the generational spectrum.

Stansfield later aligned herself to a much more vogue and vintage style. Enter Real Love (1991). Hear the “Change”. The sumptous single, one-upped by the sober silkiness of “All Woman,” betrayed Stansfield’s Philadelphia fetish. However, it wasn’t just a 1970’s R&B revival; Stansfield (with Devaney and Morris still behind her) cut the old with the new (read: adult contemporary pop). Stansfield’s transition from semi-club siren to chanteuse had been completed.

"All Woman" single cover

“All Woman” single cover

Home of the John Barry co-penned “In All the Right Places,” So Natural (1993) extended Stansfield’s plush Philly playtime. The long player fare, as on her previous two LPs, went from strength to strength.

Whether sensually rhythmic (“I Give You Everything”) or designer disco (“Marvelous and Mine”), Stansfield carved her own space in R&B and pop. Of course Arista Records fumbled and denied So Natural U.S. citizenship; it was puzzling since Real Love had been a gold score Stateside. Stansfield’s American traction never recovered from Arista’s ill-advised maneuver. In England, the record maintained a polite presence with its sales. Andy Morris, a part of the artistic team behind Stansfield’s records, left the fold after So Natural; the LP consummated Stansfield and Devaney’s personal union too. They’d marry in 1998.

To go back a year before Stansfield and Devaney’s matrimonial bliss, Stansfield released her fourth, eponymous spinner in 1997. Lisa Stansfield became her third album in America and first there in five years; it’d also be her last U.S. appearance.

Pulling back the ballads that occupied the two preceding LPs, Lisa Stansfield was (at that time) her most modern work. Buoyed by Stansfield’s hip-hop inflected version of Barry White’sNever, Never Gonna Give You Up,” Stansfield’s announcement of her return welcomed a bit of attitude. “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up’s” subsequent video matched the track in its passionate intensity visually. “The Real Thing” became the “single blockbuster” from the effort and there was even a respectable Phyllis Hyman cover of “You Know How to Love Me”.

Stansfield tried her hand at acting―an occupation she’d explore in the coming decade―with 1999’s ‘Swing’. The film was fine, but its soundtrack was even better. Jazz fit Stansfield like a glove and she gave confident turns at established classics by The Four Tops (“Baby I Need Your Lovin’”)―her own compositions seared too (“Two Years Too Blue”).

"Let's Just Call It Love" single cover

“Let’s Just Call It Love” single cover

What came next was Stansfield’s return to the dancefloor, as such, with her fifth LP, Face Up (2001).

Her first album in, effectively, her third decade, it wasted no time making new R&B tricks work for her.

Examples included the explosive “I’ve Got Something Better” (her finest album opener ever?) and the divine “Let’s Just Call It Love”. The record, though fantastic, was an unequivocal miss commercially. Content wasn’t the problem, Stansfield had become a refined woman in an industry known for its sexism and ageism. Undaunted, she celebrated her Arista stay with a customary “greatest hits” package entitled Biography (2003). The set collected majority of her singles, the tracklisting varied from British to American editions. Stansfield’s discography got a renewed life too; all five of her studio records were remastered and available individually or in a collector’s box. It was the perfect end to her time at Arista Records.

The following year, Stansfield signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT Records. Trevor Horn, known for groundbreaking collaborations with Seal, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, turned his charms on Stansfield. The fruit of this union bore Stansfield’s sixth album, The Moment (2004). While some greet it with indifference today, it wisely married the adult contemporary of Real Love with the modish tweaks of Face Up.

Stansfield’s rendition of Prefab Sprout’s When Love Breaks Down” was a highlight; the lead singer of Prefab Sprout (Paddy McAloon) was kind enough to write an additional verse for Stansfield’s cover. Regrettably, the album did not perform well and Stansfield stepped into semi-retirement and her acting ambitions.

In late 2013 the rumors were true, Lisa Stansfield had come back to music. Stansfield partnered with her husband Ian and session-player / producer stalwarts Jerry Hey and Peter Mokran. The indie-issued Seven is Stansfield at her most concise and stripped. The last descriptor is heard on the songs “Why” and “The Rain” that had Stansfield engaged in that new sonic context.

However, that traditional Stansfield magic popped on the flavorful “Can’t Dance”. It might give Face Up’s “I’ve Got Something Better” a run for its money as Stansfield’s best album starter.

Lisa Stansfield, now 47, has taken her place in the pantheon of “ivory soul singers”.

[Editor’s Note: I attempted to tell Lisa’s musical story with a collection of her singles and album cuts. Sadly, thanks to video restrictions (by country) and certain songs not being available (via Youtube or Daily Motion), not everything  has a hyperlink. Seven is available digitally and physically (as an import); for current news on Lisa Stansfield, visit her official site.-QH]

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Ooh La La: En Vogue’s “Soul Flower” Turns 10

En Vogue, circa 2004

En Vogue, circa 2004

Over a decade removed from the sizzle and spark of their landmark Funky Divas (1992) LP, En Vogue held fast to their creative passion.

Soul Flower, their fifth album, allowed Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron-Braggs to rise to the challenge of crafting something timely and tasteful.

On board with En Vogue mainstays was newcomer Rhona Bennett; this union added another layer to the unbelievable tale of this indefatigable girl group.

The History

The Noughties began for En Vogue conceptually with Masterpiece Theatre (2000), their fourth record. A synthesis of classical music and contemporary R&B, its gamble was lost in a changing musical landscape. Three years spanned between EV3 (1997) and Masterpiece Theatre; many of En Vogue’s peers had rescinded and left a vacuum that the singles-ready Destiny’s Child quickly filled. En Vogue’s doo-wop styled vocal approach, the rage in the early-to-mid 1990’s, might have played passé to younger listeners.

En Vogue’s label EastWest Records faced a turbulent dissolution that put its roster of artists into a difficult position. As a result, Masterpiece Theatre lacked the promotional punch needed to sell it.

Maxine Jones, one of the En Vogue originals, took her leave of rest not long after Masterpiece Theatre was issued. Ellis and Herron-Braggs remained and rallied Amanda Cole for touring and recording; Cole appeared on their holiday LP, The Gift of Christmas (2002).

Rhona Bennett had been making rounds as an aspiring actress and singer since the early 1990’s. She’d been a “Mousketeer” on the revived ‘Mickey Mouse Club’; that show’s alumni featured Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. After several acting gigs, including ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ and ‘The Jamie Foxx Show,’ Bennett caught the eye of super-producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Bennett signed to his Darkchild Records imprint and put out her first album, Rhona (2001).

Cole abruptly departed En Vogue when the writing and recording of Soul Flower began. Propitiously, Bennett and En Vogue would intersect in 2003.

The Record

Soul Flower album cover

Soul Flower album cover

Slick, sexy and professional were apt adjectives to describe En Vogue’s previous music from a casual distance; however, the aforementioned EV3 allowed them a chance to work with different producers (for the first time) and new sounds.

Some of those sounds borrowed from the (then) wildly popular sub-genre of R&B, neo-soul; EV3 cuts like “Right Direction,” “Love Makes You Do Thangs” and “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” marked a predisposition to that sonic aesthetic.

While neo-soul had cooled in the early half of the last decade, that loose atmosphere informed Soul Flower. Still, En Vogue were cognizant of their namesake and desired that “modern touch”. With Bennett along as a member (and songwriter), Ellis and Herron-Braggs worked out a winning formula. Co-piloting with En Vogue were long-standing producers Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster

Two Bennett leads started the LP off and showed that she could hang with the En Vogue veterans: “Losin My Mind” and “Ez-a-lee”.

“Losin My Mind’s” brass flashes and earworm melody that threaded throughout the song, courtesy of Ellis and Herron-Braggs harmonies, hypnotized. “Ez-a-lee’s” guitar tuning pizzicato and arid beats were trim; this “less is more” approach in the arrangements had En Vogue brandishing their abilities with ease.

Doubt of chemistry between Bennett, Ellis and Herron-Braggs was dismissed with a pair of breezy disco numbers: “Ooh Boy” and “Heaven”. Soul Flower beamed continuously with a sassy Guy cover (“I Do Love You (Piece of My Love)”) perfumed black-pop (“Ooh La La”) and an empowerment jam (“Stop”).

A bit of cutting room floor flotsam splintered Soul Flower slightly: “All You See,” “Careful,” “How Do I Get Over” and “New Day Callin'”. Despite the inherent “bang for your buck” CD filler flaw with the mentioned quartet of songs, Soul Flower portrayed an energized En Vogue.

The Impact

En Vogue got off on the promotional good foot with an appearance on ‘Soul Train’ (Season 33, Episode #15) on 1/31/04 to perform Soul Flower’s lead single “Ooh Boy”. The album itself released on 2/25/04 while “Losin My Mind” was moved forward as the second single. Their fifth LP was En Vogue’s first independent release via the California based 33rd Street Records imprint.

En Vogue’s sales slip didn’t halt with “Losin My Mind” or Soul Flower. The album fared well on the U.S. Billboard Independent Album Chart (#15) and the ever loyal U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop Albums Chart (#47). Fortunately, the pundits received Soul Flower favorably; David Jefferies of All Music Guide remarked of the project:

Four years after their last true full-length album, En Vogue return as independent women, not only in record label but also in attitude. Soul Flower benefits from more of an eye on the groove than on the charts and better than ever tricks from longtime producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy.

Within the first five seconds of the album listeners get a slinky shuffle of a beat, ’40’s-styled harmonies, and a confident, soulful lead vocal. A ton of winning ideas follow, and Foster and McElroy seem to be having as much fun as ever. The 2004 version of En Vogue — original members Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron with newish member Rhona Bennett — harmonize as well as the original four, adding a mature attitude that’s still sexy and strong.

En Vogue Performing “Ooh Boy” on Soul Train, 2004

Ellis, Herron-Braggs & Bennett, circa 2014

Ellis, Herron-Braggs & Bennett, circa 2014

The record didn’t rock the charts, but En Vogue maintained their reputation for solid albums with Soul Flower.

What came after its release would be a tumultuous decade of shifting line-ups. As it stands, the current line-up of En Vogue is as it was 10 years ago: Bennett, Herron-Braggs and Ellis.

There have been several rumors of albums being started (and shelved) in that decade of changing faces; fans eagerly await En Vogue’s next record and if Soul Flower is any indication, their next record will be another ace affair. Ranking: Semi-Classic

[Editor’s Note: Soul Flower is in print currently; for news on En Vogue, visit their official Facebook page.-QH]

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The QH Blend’s Class of 2003

Q---Class-of-2003

2013 was a busy year for The QH Blend. The essays for the above pictured LPs, on their 10th anniversaries, played a role in the successful relaunch of this site. Granted, there were many fantastic records released in 2003, but even I can only write about so many. Thus, you have all nine retrospectives collected in one space in case you missed them the first go round. See below and enjoy. However (!), be on the lookout for my selections from 2013 in music sometime next month.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Shoot From the Hip (read here)

Blondie: The Curse of Blondie (read here)

The Cardigans: Long Gone Before Daylight (read here)

Jewel: 0304 (read here)

Madonna: American Life (read here)

Dannii Minogue: Neon Nights (read here)

Kylie Minogue: Body Language (read here)

Mandy Moore: Coverage (read here)

Seal: Seal IV (read here)

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Love’s Divine: Seal’s “Seal IV” Turns 10

Seal, Circa 2003

Seal, Circa 2003

Seal was never an ordinary force. With a voice spun equally from sugar and grit, his vocals on DJ Adamski’s “Killer” placed him directly into the British (nu) soul revolution that was gripping the world in the early 1990’s.

Later, he confounded and thrilled when he slid into “Kiss From a Rose”; it made Seal an adult contemporary darling as much as a dancefloor principal.

The release of Seal’s fourth album, third to bear his name, Seal IV (2003) marked a beginning and end. For Seal, his fourth album was about consolidation and exploration. The question then, which lingers even now, is whether Seal and his music was in step with the period or drastically misunderstood and out of time.

The History
Seal’s grip, assured in the first half of the 1990’s, had started to lose its hold by the end of that decade. His third album, the maligned masterpiece Human Being (1998), was greeted by commercial and critical indifference. Thankfully, the record found its calling as one of, if not, his best work at that time with his fans.

Temporarily parting with longtime producer-partner Trevor Horn, Horn handled his first three records, Seal collaborated with Henry Jackman. The album, entitled Togetherland,  was canned by Warner Bros. in 2001. Only one cut survived the vaulting, “Heaven” (retitled “This Could Be Heaven”); it appeared on the motion picture soundtrack to ‘Family Man’.

To pass time between the shelving of Togetherland and the recording of what would become Seal IV, Seal recorded two high-profile features with Mylène Farmer (“Les Mots,” 2001 France #2) and Jakatta (“My Vision,” 2002 U.K. #6). The former made a cameo on the French pressing of Seal IV, while the latter appeared on every version of Seal IV. Both songs somewhat suggested the direction Seal walked toward for his fourth album; to realize it, he returned to Horn.

The Record

Single Cover to "Love's Divine"

Single Cover to “Love’s Divine”

In a way, the abortion of Togetherland lended a sense of rediscovery to Seal IV. Seal, along with Horn (producing) and Mark Batson (co-writing) sewed a taut record that played to Seal’s strength as a songwriter and vocalist.

The musical canvas was pieced together from tasteful pop (electronic, orchestral) and vintage rhythm and blues flavors.  What made Seal IV strike hard was its mode of duality when it came to its modernity and antiquity. Songs like “Waiting For You” and “Don’t Make Me Wait” reveled in their “old school soul” twang; the tracks were R&B reduplication perfection. The future remained focal for Seal on “Heavenly (Good Feeling…)” and “My Vision,” both offered hearty, if synthetic arrangements.

Drawing spotlight to “Loneliest Star,” its backbone was a snug, melancholy acoustic rhythm that Seal rode vocally and lyrically to heartbreaking effect. Elsewhere, Seal’s pen prominently shone on the plush reggae sway of “Where There’s Gold,” or he made romantic fantasy flesh on “Touch.” His voice, never lacking pathos or joy,  resounded on the mentioned “Waiting For You” and slow build-up of “Love’s Divine”; “Divine” stands arguably one of his finest forms occupied in his entire recording career.

Opening, and closing, with the (mock) Philly soul groover “Get It Together,” Seal IV tracked as Seal’s leanest effort, one where every song hung together and worked as a unit to tell Seal’s musical narrative anew.

The Impact
Seal IV hit the streets on 9/9/03, during its run it spun off three singles from late 2003 to early 2004: “Get It Together,” “Love’s Divine” and “Waiting For You.” The global chart statistics for each single were fair: “Get It Together” (U.K. #25, Austria #38, Switzerland #22, Sweden #23, Germany #41), “Love’s Divine” (U.K. #68, Austria #11, Switzerland #4, Sweden #43, Germany #4) and “Waiting For You” (U.K. #80). Stateside, all three songs made major strides on a variety of the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary and Dance charts; the best performances being “Get It Together” and “Love’s Divine” which topped the U.S. Billboard Dance charts respectively.

As an album, Seal IV made decent dents in various places: U.K. #4, U.S. #3 (his highest chart debut Stateside), Switzerland #1, Austria #7, Germany #14, Sweden #19.

Critically, Seal had his share of opposition and praise. David Medsker, of PopMatters, shared his thoughts on the long player:

Single cover to "Waiting For You"

Single cover to “Waiting For You”

The soulful Seal IV is actually much better than one would expect from an artist whose last decent album is now nine years old. At the same time, something about it is off; for the first time, Seal is not merely outside his time (good), but behind it (bad). If only someone had introduced him to the Neptunes. He tries to get the party started with “Get It Together”, a soul-inspired disco number with a good hook but no real high-energy payoff. It may be catchy, but it can’t fill a dance floor, coming off like dance music for people who don’t dance anymore.

The same thing happens with “Waiting For You”, a horn drenched R&B nugget with a far too passive rhythm track. The combination of pop music getting harder while Seal gets softer makes Seal IV sound more antiquated than it should. What some enterprising mixmaster out there should do is take these songs and mash them with the beats from Kenna’s album New Sacred Cow (produced, natch, by one of the Neptunes). Those beats, with these songs, would have created something otherworldly. Maybe next time, and hopefully not four-years-from-now next time.

Other times, Seal was caught in the shadow of Seal (1991), but had fair compliments bestowed upon him by Beth Massa of Amazon.com:

After five years and one do-over later, Seal presents a fourth album that finds the singer growing with his audience. The disc’s opener, “Get It Together,” melds a quiet “live” moment into a horn-and-string disco number, setting the stage for the rest of the disc, which is largely a nod to Detroit-and-Philly-R&B. The British-born musician pulls it off. His rasp and emotive, positive vocals are well suited for the retro stylings he attempts.

“Waiting for You” will flood the dance floor, and he’s unafraid to dig deep for the ballads, Marvin Gaye would approve. The funk is real, but saddled with a pop safety net, and the upbeat tracks need a helping hand from a good remixer before they are as compelling as his seminal singles “Killer” and “Crazy.” Seal never goes all out in any direction and this coolness, combined with Trevor Horn’s perfectionist production, plants the album inescapably in the realm of adult contemporary (although this is as good as adult contemporary gets).

After all was said and settled, Seal IV moved 658,000 copies worldwide; certifications were balanced in gold (U.S.) and platinum (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). Seal’s ability to divide between the austerity of adult contemporary and edgier pop had become “old hat” to some.

Or, as the previously mentioned PopMatters critic David Medsker observed, “Now he has to deal with Justin/Britney/Xtina, thug rap, whiner metal, ClearChannel and the RIAA suing its own customers. There isn’t a chance in hell anyone is going to hear this record.”

Seal became the victim of the entire landscape of music changing in the second decade of his career. Seal’s gifts seemed out of tune with the more cynical and harsh environs of the early 2000’s.

“Love’s Divine”
Directed By: Sanji

Seal and Horn did part ways after Seal IV and didn’t return to one another until Seal’s Soul 2 (2012) project, for select cuts. Seal followed Seal IV with a customary “best-of” package in 2004 before releasing System (2007), Soul (2008), Seal 6: Commitment (2010) and the already stated Soul 2. Of the batch, System was the underdog, a return to the grinding dance that was heard on his eponymous debut.

The sales of each following record were either strong, or weak, depending on the territories of the world they operated in. Seal’s appeal as a live artist remains undiminished today; though he may seem nothing short of an enigma to younger ears and “lost” to his die-hards due to his stately covers recordings.

What is sure is that Seal, as a songwriter and interpreter, is one of the best from the last two decades. Passionate, human and in his own way, defiant, Seal is the best there is at what he does. In spite of the “sound of the times,” he didn’t betray his creative flame. Ranking: Classic

[Editor’s Note: Seal IV, as the rest of his discography, is readily available in physical and digital retailers everywhere. For current information on Seal, visit his official site.-QH]

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