*** SEAL; "Seal" ( Sire/Warner Bros. )

The black Sting? A male Joni Mitchell? The new Terence Trent D'Arby?

After his impressive 1991 debut album, also titled "Seal," this prodigiously talented English singer-songwriter seemed quite capable of going in many different directions. The way he skillfully squeezed unsettling, poetic lyrics into a commercial pop framework on his big hit single "Crazy" clearly marked him for big things.

On his second album--produced, as was the debut, by Trevor Horn--that male Joni Mitchell tag seems to fit best (she even guests on the tranquil "If I Could"). Seal's softer side clearly dominates. Mostly in a mellow, reflective mood, he ponders philosophical and romantic themes, his gently gloomy voice adding urgency to such moody, melodic pieces as "Dreaming in Metaphors," "People Asking Why" and "Don't Cry."

The explosiveness that simmered under even the most serene tracks on the first album isn't there this time. That rookie's aggressiveness and experimentation that marked the first album seems to have been replaced by a desire to firmly entrench himself in the pop-folk genre.

While there's nothing as arresting as "Crazy" on this album, it's a quite satisfying sophomore effort.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).

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