I could probably write this review without listening to a single word of Seal’s latest album, Soul 2. Without your ears coming into contact with so much as one note, you could safely assume that the latest covers album from the British pop singer is a tastefully orchestrated, incredibly faithful collection of R&B classics from yesteryear. However, that would be nice and easy. We don’t nevah, evah, do nuthin’ nice…and easy. So I figured why not go ahead and listen to the entire album. Hell, I might be surprised, right?
So I listened. And I wasn’t surprised.
Seal’s got a very unique voice. It’s grainy, with a lived-in quality that gets more pronounced as he ages. The songs he chooses are all clinics in great songwriting. The arrangements are beautiful. Because of that, I enjoy this second volume of covers more than I did the first. You can very easily chalk that up to the return of Trevor Horn. The former Yes member (and producer of Seal’s excellent first three albums) adds a touch of grace to the proceedings, and his productions generally sound like the aural equivalent of George Lucas films (this is a good thing.) However, all this adds up to is a very classy, well-performed hour-long karaoke session.
Do we really need another cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Ooo Baby Baby”? Or Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”? These songs are very well-traveled. Perhaps they’re too well traveled for Seal to add anything substantial to them. Many of these songs not only have one definitive version, but have a second or third version that almost stands up to the original. Seal, as good as he sounds, doesn’t do anything to make them unique—and I’m not too sure he could’ve even if he’d wanted to.
Look, I can’t tell you why covers albums sell. They’re usually not very imaginative, and don’t offer much beyond a familiar vocalist singing familiar songs. It’s almost Vegas-y that way. If there’s any subtext to Soul 2 (like there’d be any reason to make a sequel other than the fact that the first volume of Soul was Seal’s biggest seller in a decade) it’s that some of the song choices (particularly his rendition of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”) seem especially poignant in light of his split from wife Heidi Klum. Still…nothing in here that really separates it from the original (or stellar remakes by Madonna and Faith Evans.)
Soul 2 isn’t unpleasant in the least. But there’s also nothing that would suggest that this is an album you would want in your collection permanently. It’s all just…pleasant. Perhaps this concept might work better in a live setting? At any rate, at least this album reunites Seal and Trevor Horn, who hopefully have some solid original music that will make a better critical impression in the future.
While you’re at it, why don’t you check out this
- Spotify playlist
containing the original versions of all the songs on Soul 2, along with a handful of key remakes.