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Seal

IV (Warner Brothers)

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In many ways, Seal's first two albums were Trevor Horn's pinnacle as a producer; after summoning artificial glory for groups like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, he created something truly glorious when paired with an artist of Seal's caliber. A rift between the two exposed some disturbing chinks in their pristine, futuristic soul on 1998's Human Being, but on the new follow-up, their differences have been patched over completely.

On IV, Horn again sounds fully engaged, creating masterful arrangements that hint at the wider musical development occuring since the pair's last collaboration -- a touch of broken-beat here, a pinch of dancehall there. The dramatic "Loneliest Star," which builds from folk simplicity to otherworldly R&B magnificence, finds the duo as simpatico as ever. And Seal's voice remains one of pop's most sublime pleasures: Instantly recognizable, his husky tenor is an instrument as bold and multifaceted as the music that surrounds it.

What's problematic about IV is that Seal's songwriting so often requires Horn's assist. Cuts like "My Vision" and "Touch" would barely exist without Horn's own golden caress. Some won't notice or care, in the rush of aural bliss, but Seal should be more than just another Horn client.

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