Seal understands where he fits into pop music in 2015.
Standing onstage Monday night at downtown's Theatre at the Ace Hotel, the British singer was reflecting a bit on the 25 years since he broke out with a pair of hit singles — "Killer" and "Crazy" — that presented him as the (very handsome) face of London's acid-house scene. Throughout that time, he said, celebrity has never lost its thrill; he's always gotten a charge out of hearing that someone loves him.
"But now it's 'My mom loves you!' " he confessed with a knowing chuckle. Not that he was complaining. "My heart and thanks go out to the moms," he added, "for keeping us in business."
A strategic thinker, Seal, 52, played explicitly to that older audience with "Soul" and "Soul 2," a pair of recent cover albums featuring his lush renditions of market-tested R&B tunes like "What's Going On" and "If You Don't Know Me By Now." (For extra mom appeal, the singer recruited David Foster — known for his work with Josh Groban and Michael Bublé — to produce both records.)
Yet Seal hasn't relinquished his connection to whatever edge he once embodied. This month he released "7," a set of sleek, club-conscious tunes that marks his reunion with producer Trevor Horn, who helped create Seal's early hits. The album is also his first since his divorce in 2012 from Heidi Klum, the supermodel and "Project Runway" star.
So although Seal was happily owning up to his harmless-veteran status, there was something of a single-and-ready-to-mingle vibe to Monday's concert.
"Life on the dance floor," he sang over a thumping machine beat, "Here we go once again."
At points, Seal's renewed swagger made for an entertaining sight, as in the new album's "Redzone Killer," where he swiveled his hips like Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, and the muscular version of "Crazy" that opened the show.
When several security guards gathered near the stage not long into "Prayer for the Dying," the singer told his band to stop playing and asked what the guards were doing. One of them said they were trying to protect him.
"Brother, I'm 6-foot-4," Seal replied. "We're having an intimate moment right now." Then, as if to prove it, he dropped to his knees and grabbed the hands of fans in the front row.
Seal was less convincing in "Daylight Saving" and "Padded Cell," which had the flavor of overcooked alternative rock. And "Killer" was similarly turgid, its old urgency having hardened into desperation.
Mostly, though, he was feeling his oats with dignity. In his encore, before he sang "Kiss from a Rose" — the sweeping mid-'90s ballad that provided some indication of the gentler moves to come — Seal told a story about how he initially hated the song, which felt too safe compared to his house tracks.
"But I'm still singing it," he said. "I've grown to love it."