by: Seal

It's hard to call System a comeback, as Seal never really went away (despite the long gaps between albums), but this 2007 album arrived with the greatest anticipation he's had since the mid-'90s, when his second eponymous album arrived just after the twin hits of "Crazy" and "Killer." All that anticipation had little do with Seal's music, it had more to do with his sudden re-emergence as tabloid fodder in the wake of his 2005 marriage to supermodel Heidi Klum. In the wake of the runaway reality TV hit Project Runway, Klum's star never burned brighter, and its luminescence spilled over to Seal as well, helping to propel him back to the spotlight. Stature so increased, Seal decided to ditch longtime producer Trevor Horn and hire Stuart Price, Madonna's collaborator for her calculatedly retro-disco Confessions on a Dance Floor. Seal employed Price for a similar purpose but instead of reaching way back into the electro past, he decided to revive the house-inflected sound of "Crazy" for System, right down to how the album's opener "If It's in My Mind, It's on My Face" rides a similar stuttering, surging sixteenth-note hook into its chorus. System may be a dance album but it never feels as if its meant for clubs and parties, unless they're upscale cocktail parties. This may not be as soft as the music he made after "Kiss from a Rose," but the feel is the same: it's calming, atmospheric music, even when the beat pulsates relentlessly, as on "Dumb" or "The Right Life." As this is an appealing sound, System goes down smooth, even if it's rather strange that it is so nostalgic for the pre-Clinton '90s, but this is so much a production piece that, apart from the acoustic "Rolling," the only song that stands outside of the sheer sonic gloss is "Wedding Day," a genuinely odd piece of kitsch duet with Heidi herself. She acquits herself well as the spouses exchange pledges of devotion, but it's just too silly to take seriously, yet it's so sincere in its convictions that it is more grabbing than the rest of the record. And it just may be appropriate that Heidi Klum dominates System, as she is the one responsible for Seal's return to the limelight, after all. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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