Since breaking into the scene with 1991′s singles “Crazy” and “Killer,” Seal has crafted his own sound, combining dance and adult contemporary with a slight rock edge. During his career he has racked up an impressive number of hits, with 1994′s “Kiss from A Rose” earning him three Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Since those first two albums, his output has been inconsistent in quality, with Human Being ranking as his lowest-selling disc. He rebounded with the underrated Seal IV, but received mixed reviews for 2007′s dance-oriented System (particularly for an ill-advised duet with wife Heidi Klum) and 2008′s Soul, featuring Seal covering classic R&B songs. Returning with his first album of original material since System, Seal 6: Commitment, Seal harkens back to his first two albums’ sound on some tracks, a welcome development in his career.
Helmed by David Foster, who also produced Soul, Commitment features lush arrangements that often cushion Seal’s distinctive, slightly raspy voice. Seal fares best in his uptempo songs; Commitment contains a large number of ballads, which weighs down the album. The opener, “If I’m Any Closer,” sounds like an outtake from Seal’s second album, in the vein of “I’m Alive.” It immediately segues into “The Weight of My Mistakes,” which features an infectious beat and introspective lyrics about a lover accepting him, flaws and all: “The weight of my mistakes/Depends on how I feel/But don’t let it bring you down.” Seventies soul, featuring a bass-heavy beat and strings, permeates “The Best of Me,” a pleasant midtempo song that exemplifies the album’s title: “You bring out the best in me,” he declares, obviously referring to his marriage.
Another intriguing song is “The Way I Lie,” which departs from the contented love of the rest of the album. Over a shuffling beat, Seal sings of maintaining a facade in a relationship. “Darling, you ask me to say/That we’ll be okay, so I play along/But you still don’t notice the way I lie.”
Ever since the massive success of “Kiss from A Rose,” Seal has included more ballads on his albums. Commitment would have benefited from more of a balance of uptempo and slow tracks. Instead there are too many overproduced power ballads like “Silence” and “I Know What You Did.” “All for Love,” features lyrics drenched in cliches, particularly surprising due to Seal’s songwriting ability. However, “You Get Me” contains sincere lyrics from a man in love, and Foster uses a lighter touch on the track. Highlighting the piano and strings, the sparser arrangement underscores the song’s intimacy.
Commitment closes with “Big Time” (not to be confused with Peter Gabriel’s So track), a song that could be seen as a companion to Seal IV’s “Tinsel Town,” although much less cynical. Foster’s over- the-top production style actually enhances the tune, which approaches Seal’s signature rock and dance sound more than any other track. Here Seal flexes his vocal chords, never overpowered by the orchestral bombast toward the end. More tracks like this and “If I’m Any Closer” would have added more variety to the disc.
On much of the album, Seal appears as the picture of contentment. While this is certainly a positive element, it would have been interesting to include other themes and moods. His first two albums stood out for their diversity and uniqueness, and Commitment simply does not approach those works. Perhaps he will return to his edgier side in future albums; hopefully he will someday reunite with producer Trevor Horn, who expertly guided him on some of his most memorable compositions. However, Commitment’s uptempo tracks show that Seal is still capable of producing quality music, and that he possesses one of the most powerful and compelling voices in contemporary pop.