Seal: Videos 1991 - 2004 Review

One of the great voices of the British music scene during the 90’s, Seal came to prominence in 1990 as the guest singer on Adamski’s ‘Killer’, a classic of post-80’s pop, demonstrating a strong soulful voice that clearly promised a stellar career that would quickly eclipse the electro-punk stylings of Adamski. Seal’s eponymous first album Seal additionally benefited from Trevor Horn’s production, creating one of the all-round greatest albums of the 1990s, but forged a comfortable sound that Seal has found it increasingly difficult to break away from. The singer/songwriter has made several attempts over the years to cultivate an independent identity from Horn’s lush productions. The gestation period of Seal’s second album Seal II was particularly long and difficult, the singer abandoning an attempt at a rockier, Hendrix-influenced sound, eventually returning to the safety of Trevor Horn’s mixing desk. The second album was less compelling than Seal I, but contained ‘Kiss From A Rose’ one of the singer’s greatest and, with its inclusion on the Batman Returns soundtrack, one of his most successful songs ever.

From a personal point of view, it has been a case of diminishing returns ever since then. The voice is still there and it is still magnificent, but for me it seems that Seal has been boxed-in by a particular sound that doesn’t give his voice the freedom and emotion it could reach. As a songwriter, Seal’s lyrics remain deliberately oblique, the lyrics often playing on sounds and images rather than having any purposeful meaning, but at their best (‘Kiss From A Rose’ is a fine example of this), the songs take on a certain poetic resonance. A vigorous perfectionism – evinced in the lengthy periods between albums – has however smoothed out any rough edges and the overall effect is pleasant, smooth, controlled songs and singing, that lack any real inspiration or feeling.

Seal: Videos 1991-2004 contains only ten songs and runs for 40 minutes which is a fair representation of a career that has only seen the release of four albums, but it’s far from comprehensive and there are some serious omissions, notably an absence of videos for singles ‘Kiss From A Rose’, ‘The Beginning’, ‘I’m Alive’, ‘Newborn Friend’, ‘This Could Be Heaven’, ‘Lost My Faith’, and his single from the Space Jam soundtrack (yeah, I know – I’m saying nothing…) ‘Fly Like an Eagle’. One of the better recent Seal singles, his collaboration with Jakatta on ‘My Vision’ is also notable by its absence. There may never have been videos for all of these songs, but there is a distinct lack of any other footage, live performance or otherwise, or extra material that would make up for these omissions. This UK DVD release is encoded for Regions 2, 3, 4 and 5 and it’s worth noting that the DVD is in NTSC format.

Crazy (4:32)
A great song, Seal’s first single emphatically secured the singer’s reputation as a solo artist. The video is also excellent, shot against a white background, full of iconic Seal images.

Killer (3:54)
If I recall correctly, this was filmed in a new 3-D technique, which would explain all the objects flying out at the camera. Actually, if I look around the house hard enough I could probably turn-up the special glasses that allowed this to be viewed in 3-D. I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble though, as I seem to recall it was never that effective. It’s quite awful here in 2-D, looking very dated with primitive CGI effects. I prefer the Adamski version, but this is still a great song.

Future Love Paradise (4:38)
Lots of dry-ice doesn’t obscure the fact that this is a cheap-looking video that doesn’t do anything for the song.

Prayer For The Dying (4:13)
Abandoning the dreadlocks for the shaved-head look, revealing his facial scarring, Seal is an imposing presence in the video for the first single from Seal II. A good song with superlative production values, it nevertheless feels drained of any real emotion and is much too smooth. The video features a similarly lifeless performance.

Don’t Cry (4:32)
Similarly, another gorgeous little song that sounds like it has been produced to within an inch of its life. The video is also quite bland.

Human Beings (4:03)
Some scary face morphing effects on this one, but Seal looks scary enough himself under the harsh blue lighting. A slick-looking video for a slick song, the true power of which seems buried under overblown crescendos and lush string arrangements.

Waiting For You (2:50)
Seal adopts a soul-brother persona with big sunglasses and a moustache for this jazzy number from the patchy Human Beings album. Another powerful vocal performance, but the song pleasantly goes nowhere.

Get It Together (3:49)
Seal makes the inevitable move into Sting-like easy-listening, adult-oriented, up-tempo, US radio-friendly pop territory here. A distinctly average song set to a bad 90’s electro beat.

Love’s Divine (4:36)
Another easy-listening ballad from the disappointing Seal IV album.

Walk On By (3:20)
Personally, I think Dionne Warwick’s version of this song reigns supreme, although The Stranglers version is magnificent. Seal’s version, dragged down by a leaden beat, rates below Gabrielle’s version of the song. There is something seriously wrong when a singer fails to do justice to a classic Bacharach & David song.

Overall the image quality is reasonably good, the videos clean and clear from any damage or marks. The early videos from the first two albums are slightly soft and show grain, which is to be expected, but colours are generally strong with good levels of brightness and contrast. The videos from ‘Human Beings’ onward have much better production values, colours transferred beautifully and clearly, but one or two show shimmering artefacts. ‘Human Beings’ and ‘Get It Together’ are shown 16:9 letterbox, ‘Waiting For You’, curiously at 1.66:1 letterbox, the remaining videos are at the original 4:3 ratio.

There is no choice of soundtrack and the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is simply inadequate. These should have at least been remastered from the original tracks to PCM Stereo. As it is there is no real dynamism to the over-compressed sound here, though it is relatively clear, with no real background noise or problems with hiss.

Considering that Seal is reluctant to include lyrics with his albums, preferring the listener to work out lyrics that are personally meaningful for them, the fact that few music video collections include lyrics anyway and the fact that this particular release is so bare-bones, it’s no surprise that there are no subtitles on this release.

No extras either. The DVD contains a static menu showing nothing more than the titles of the ten songs. As there are no options to choose, the DVD starts running the programme automatically after about 30 seconds. There is no information anywhere on the DVD itself giving release dates, songwriting information, production credits or video directors. This information may be included in a booklet with the DVD, but this wasn’t seen with the review copy and, considering the lack of care applied to the actual material on the DVD, I wouldn’t count on it being included anywhere.

This is a pretty lacklustre package, a partial, very brief selection of videos with a number of key songs missing, bundled together with no thought at all and with no restoration of image or sound. (Compare this to the Peter Gabriel: Play package to see how a collection ought to be put together.) It’s nice to see some of these videos again in any form and there are some excellent songs in this collection, although in my personal view few of the videos are in any way exceptional and the songs, barring a few numbers on Seal II, have failed to live-up to the early promise showcased on Seal’s first album.

6 out of 10
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