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Seal chooses idealism, optimism on new CD

English soul singer Seal has a reputation for being poised and in total control of his music and emotions. Just think back to his polished, Grammy-winning "Kiss from a Rose" single. So it's something of a shock when Seal starts jabbering like a starstruck disciple when you mention that parts of his new album appear influenced by Marvin Gaye's landmark disc, "What's Going On," in which Gaye railed against racial injustice and moral decay in the '70s.

"You were reminded of Marvin Gaye's `What's Going On'! Oh my God, I love you," says Seal, on the phone from Los Angeles. "You can come stay at my house any time you want free of charge, whether I'm here or not! And you can have my car and the details of my banking. Everything!"

The burst of emotion leaves his interviewer struggling for words, but Seal quickly fills the gap.

"What a masterpiece `What's Going On' is. That album, and Stevie Wonder's `Innervisions,' changed my life," he says. "I love the song `What's Going On,' but also other songs like `Save the Children.' Honestly, there are only certain times I can listen to that album, because it brings tears to my eyes. . . . You can hear him bleeding on that album."

That's also the reaction listeners may have to Seal's idealistic new songs, "Get It Together" and "Heavenly (Good Feeling)." The first even has some Motown funk underlines, such as "who am I to judge the color of your hair?" and "let's forgive each other" and "think of the troubles today/isn't it easier to put that gun away?"

"I just wanted to put it out there," says Seal, whose new album, "Seal IV," his first in five years, hits stores on Tuesday.

"If you were to argue what is `Get It Together' about, I would really say it's about choice," he adds. "I think what I'm expressing is my path in life. . . . I think that times have changed in that it's no longer acceptable to take an apathetic stance. And I don't necessarily mean on global issues, but personal issues that are a lot more local, and internal issues. That's where it all starts. I don't think we can sit on the fence anymore. We have to make up our minds. And if one wants to choose the path of darkness, then so be it, but be conscious of what it is you're doing. I like to think that I'm trying to choose love over most things, but that's my choice."

Seal's gut optimism is further revealed in the other soul anthem, "Heavenly (Good Feeling)," which rides the irrepressible lines, "I look at the world and it's heavenly/ I see a miracle place to be/ Why does anyone have to die?"

"The world is still a fantastic and wondrous place to live," says Seal, the son of a Nigerian mother and Brazilian father. "Yes, there are a lot of negative things in the world, but I don't think we can dwell on those. I believe in collective consciousness. I believe that our society is merely a reflection of what is going on inside each and every one of us. Therefore, if we want to change the world and make it a better place, we need to reflect things in a positive way. To do that, you have to look at the good things that are happening."

Seal's main mission with the new album was to be "relevant." His long absence was because he first wrote and recorded an album in Los Angeles that didn't feel relevant, so he scrapped it entirely. He moved back to London, where he got in touch with "the smells and sounds and people and social interactions" that originally inspired him, prompting him to write a new batch of songs, including the anthems and some love songs such as the new single "Waiting for You," a sexy track in which he sings, "There has been no one brighter than you."

"When I first listened to [the single], I didn't like it at all," says Kid David, music director at Boston's KISS-108, also known as WXKS (107.9 FM). "But the fourth or fifth time I listened to it, I started getting it. Now I think it's a pretty catchy song, but I don't know if it fits the pop format. . . . We'll see. Seal has always been a little bit left of center and it has worked most of the time for him."

Seal has no regrets about canning his first attempt at the album and starting over.

"I feel like I've found reason to live again," he says. "I hit 40 earlier this year and I think that's a pivotal point in anyone's life. I guess I'm experiencing all the things that you'd expect would come from turning that corner. Time becomes more valuable the older you get. You realize that this is your life. It's not about looking toward a brighter day or what tomorrow may bring. This is my life right now."

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