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CD reviews: Seal and more

Only his fourth album in 13 years—Seal is not exactly the hardest-working man in showbusiness. Or perhaps it just takes time to craft pop this luxurious. Seal makes records with the epic production values of a Hollywood movie yet brings to them an authentic sense of British soul, musically rich yet emotionally reserved. Despite lyrics that tend to sound like they were plucked from self-help manuals, he avoids mushy sentimentality. His voice is soft, hoarse and subtly melancholic, with a compelling tone but little of the showy quality of top American RnB singers. Producer Trevor Horn (the man behind Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Tatu) concocts a seamless combination of synths, strings and immaculate musicianship to frame the songs, drawing on a melting pot of global musical influences (the ska touches on Where Theres Gold, complete with Seals surprisingly adept reggae MC-ing, are particularly winning) while never straying too far from a mainstream commercial template. There may be a fine line between smooth and bland, but Seal blissfully floats above such petty concerns.