The story of the time in 1991 when Seal briefly became my new pop god.
My diary entries from my early to mid teenage years – 1989, ’90, ’91 – are mostly comprised of the slightly deranged scribblings of a scarily Bowie-obsessed kid. It was rare for me to bother mentioning anything unless it pertained to my rock hero in some way. But in 1991, things were starting to change. The only new album Bowie had released since I’d become a fan in 1988 was the atonal-racket-filled “Tin Machine”, and his so-called “world” tour in 1990 had failed to make it to Australia, where I lived at the time. Meanwhile, the release of the second Tin Machine album was being delayed beyond all sanity, and I was becoming very impatient indeed.
Add to this the fact that my only other musical fave, the Pet Shop Boys, had recently released their fourth album “Behaviour”, which the teenaged me found it very hard to connect with, full as it was of mature and reflective songs that were far from the exciting pop sounds that had drawn me to their earlier albums. All this meant that my music-obsessed soul was not finding new and exciting music to fall in love with amongst my established faves, and so, slowly, other younger bands and artists were filling in the gap.
On the 24th of March 1991, four days after I’d turned 16, I documented in my diary everything I’d bought with my birthday money. There was the recent reissue of “Ziggy Stardust” – my first CD purchase even though I did not yet have a CD player – and a second hand copy of Bowie’s “Day In Day Out” seven inch single. So far, so typical. And then there was this:
‘A “cassingle” (horrible word) of a brill song called “Crazy” by Seal (a male human being, if you’re wondering)’
I had not quite developed any in-depth music reviewing skills at this young age, so “brill” is as far as it gets for my on the spot thoughts on this song – though a couple of months later, on the 27th of May, I upgraded my opinion:
”Remember that incredibly brill song I told you about on March 24 called “Crazy” by Seal? Well Seal has a new single out, another classic epic excursion into brillness called “Future Love Paradise” and on Saturday I bought it!’
The rest of the diary entry is a tale of my struggles in actually getting to listen to Seal’s new song that weekend – the cassette disagreed with my stereo apparently, my walkman was out of batteries and my brother had friends round so I couldn’t stay in the living room watching the video. Oh the trials of the 20th century music fan!
But what all this means is that, for a brief period in 1991, I effectively had a second favourite singer after Bowie, and it was Seal. And I do remember that his music was very exciting indeed. Seal seemed at this point to be everything I was looking for in a pop idol – attractive and mysterious, combining an up-to-the-minute pop sensibility with a detached, alienated charisma.
The futuristic soundscapes exuded by both these songs was exactly what I found most exciting as a 16 year old pop fan. “Crazy” had all the elements that had drawn me to my other favourite artists – the sense of depth, mystery and meaning that I loved about my favourite songs from Bowie’s 70s catalogue that I was then exploring, mixed with the up-to-date electronic sounds that had made me fall in love with the Pet Shop Boys in the 80s.
And then the aforementioned ‘classic epic excursion into brillness‘ “Future Love Paradise” had me even more obsessed. I fell completely in love with its aura of an otherworldy fantasy-scape evoking corrupt kingdoms, drug-addled bike riders and the ultimate victory of love. Its sense of epic importance combined with shades of discordant unease was hugely compelling to me. Again, Seal seemed like a young, modern pop star who had some of the magical and futuristic elements of 70s Bowie that I was sorely missing in his more up to date output.
Unfortunately, it turned out in the end that Seal was not the pop god I was looking for. On buying his self-titled debut album shortly after discovering these two songs, I found it to be overflowing with soulful, mature examples of tasteful adult-oriented pop – exactly the thing I was not looking for as a teenaged music fan. And as his output following his debut carried on in that mature vein, with all the oddness and mystery that had appealed so much to me neatly trimmed away, I went on to pretty much completely ignore him after 1991. (Okay, except for “Kiss From A Rose”, which is pretty damn cool too.)
But there’s no denying that these two singles remain undying classics, and from my now slightly more mature vantage point I can even appreciate the stately soulfulness of his debut album much more than I could at 16. His reign as my new pop king may have been brief, but I will always be grateful that Seal injected his unique pop vision into my teenaged musical landscape in 1991.
Categories: All the songs of my life