ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Seal, Linbury Studio Theatre, London


Seals golden voice is the stuff of which summer weekends are made, so he has missed a trick by scheduling his new album for September, after a five-year absence that has given the public ample time to forget him. Yet timing is probably irrelevant for the multi-million-selling crooner whose songs are equally at home wafting over the PA at Topshop or from the stage at the Grammy awards, where in the 1990s it was his lot to remind Americans that Britain had a music industry.

This show, staged for fan club members in an annexe of the Royal Opera House, settled one question. Yes, Seal still induces benevolent feelings that owe as much to his avuncular presence as to the languid weapons in his vocal armoury. “Avuncular” probably isnt what he is aiming for — his black leather jacket and thrusting dance style are in the R Kelly mould — but avuncular is what we get, with his gentle banter and Shirley Basseyish bottom poured into extra-snug trousers.

Sexy he aint, then, and even the fan-club members will back me up here: the set passed without a single swoon or squeal. What he is, though, is a fantastic upholder of the Luther Vandross tradition of achingly smooth soul, to which he adds a Brit dance edge. Despite having sung them approximately 10,467 times, he gives the hits Crazy, Future Love Paradise and last years trance collaboration with Jakatta, My Vision, a lusty going-over, reminding us that chart-pop can be the noblest musical form. Meanwhile, his signature ballad Kiss From a Rose is still majestic; his gently quizzical vocal is complemented by a video backdrop of lazily swooping geometrical shapes.

He is here to showcase the forthcoming Seal IV album, and devotes most of the brief show to that. There appears to be a preponderance of ballads, the first impression of which suggests that 12 years residence in Los Angeles has clubbed the life out of this particular Seal. To undistinguished plodders such as Loves Divine — essentially U2s I Still Havent Found What Im Looking For with a bit more huffing and puffing — he adds a midatlantic accent and a ruinous California gloss. Theyll love it in America. But here?