|Seal - IV|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 20 April 2004|
Originally released as a 16-bit CD in September of last year, I hadn’t heard this disc until I reviewed it as a DVD-Audio disc. Or had I? It turns out that two of the first three songs were sold to television networks. For those of you who are avid viewers of NBC’s reality show “Average Joe,” chances are you’ve heard the Seal tune from this album called “Love’s Divine.” TNT viewers may recognize the Seal song “Waiting for You” from a recent series of 30-second spots.
Having already heard these songs when listening to the disc, gave me that warm, fuzzy “Oh, I have heard this song before” feeling. Whether you consider Seal to be a sell-out or just a good businessman, he gave the go-ahead to have his lately album mixed into surround sound and we applaud any artist willing to do so.
I’m quite familiar with Seal’s first two self-titled discs, but hadn’t heard much of his last studio effort, Human’s Being. The word on the street about that album was that is was a little on the slow and overly introspective side, so on his fourth studio album, appropriately titled Seal IV, Seal makes it quite apparent that he’s ready to party and bring things up a notch from his last effort. The opening track “Get It Together” begins with what sounds like random noise and chatter that you might hear at a party before segueing into an R&B funk jam that is reminiscent of the Isley Brothers’ ultra-funky “Who’s That Lady.” I’m beginning to realize that funky R&B is the best kind of music to mix into surround sound on DVD-Audio. Having recently heard Marvin Gaye’s Greatest Hits and Grover Washington’s Winelight on DVD-Audio in 5.1 surround, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I prefer this type of music in surround sound. Many of the rock records I have heard to date on DVD-Audio that feature just drums, bass and a guitar or two seem to suffer from unnatural-sounding mixes where guitar solos and vocals emanate from the surround speakers. On albums like Seal’s IV, more experimental placements of percussive instruments and backing vocals don’t feel distracting.
Seal has one of the most distinct, raspy vocal tones since Peter Gabriel. His vocals are warm and inviting, yet something became quite apparent to me while listening to IV. From soft ballads like “Heavenly … (good feeling)” to up-tempo pop songs like “Let Me Roll,” I noted that the actual range of Seal’s voice is not wide. He sings in a range that is comfortable and natural for him and doesn’t move up into higher octaves. This is not to say that his voice lacks soul or feeling – it has these. It just struck me that almost all of the vocal melodies on IV seem to not stray too far from his comfort range. That said, the accompanying music is highly detailed, mixed and mastered so well that hearing every instrument and sound is a breeze. I have always liked the sound of Seal’s records and thought they would translate well to DVD-Audio and IV proves my theory correct.
From a style standpoint, IV is Seal’s most diverse record with him working elements such as reggae into songs like “Where’s the Gold,” where at times he almost sounds like Rasta rapper Shaggy. “Let Me Roll” sounds a little like a Snoop Dogg pop tune with Nate Dogg-style backing vocal melodies during the chorus and a driving, poppy beat. “Tinsel Town” has some beautiful acoustic guitar and a soft hip-hop drum pattern. The piano on “Don’t Make Me Wait” makes you think you are in a smoky jazz/blues club.
The overall surround mix of Seal’s IV isn’t over the top, as most of the vocals come from the center channel, with occasional background vocals and reverbs mixed into the rears. Frequently the hi-hat finds it way into the left rear speaker, a placement that feels very natural to me since I am a drummer. The surround mix was done by engineer Tim Weidner and his choices in placement of the horns and other instruments that provide aura accents are very tasteful. After playing this disc in MLP surround, it was a huge step back to try the disc in 2.0 stereo. Some discs work better in stereo. This one is absolutely, hands-down, better in surround.
The packaging materials and onscreen menus on Seal’s IV are topnotch. A silver theme permeates the disc, as the cover art booklet and the onscreen menus are a stark silver adorned with a picture of Seal on screen wearing a black overcoat. Various photos of Seal morph and move around the screen, in a very “Matrix”-like manner, giving the disc a very modern vibe. Three video clips are included with this disc for the first three songs of the album and the picture quality of these is surprisingly good. They are your standard VH1 fare, but are still nice additions to this already value-packed DVD-Audio disc. Macintosh users who have DVD players will want to take note that this disc could not be recognized in my computer that has OS 10.2.8 software. Third-party Macintosh DVD player software may make it possible to play this disc on your computer, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Nevertheless, get this disc, pop it in your DVD-Audio or DVD-Video player and get ready for a great sonic event.