Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It

Posted September 22, 2008

Well before The Way I See It ever crossed my desk, Raphael Saadiq was already responsible for...

The Way I See It Album Review

Well before The Way I See It ever crossed my desk, Raphael Saadiq was already responsible for some of the best moments of my life. As part of the ‘90s r&b trendsetter group Tony! Toni! Tone!, it was Saadiq’s voice crooning “it’s our anniversary” that made the girls come closer during middle school slow dances. And I’ll let everyone in on a little secret: any woman who even hears his collaborations with D’Angelo (Untitled and Be Here) is immediately consumed by an unquenchable desire to make love. That’s right, the man’s that good - and I won’t be responsible for any little DJBooth fans that pop out nine months from now, so please use that information responsibly. With that in mind, my expectations were high when The Way first hit my speakers, and I’m happy to report that Saadiq’s done it again, not by remaking new versions of past hits, or new music self-consciously masquerading as old music, but music that’s so old school that it goes around full circle and becomes brand new. Confused? Stick with me.

Other writers will undoubtedly use a lot of words to describe Saadiq’s fourth solo album: retro, vintage, homage, tribute, but not surprisingly all of them will be wrong. As opposed to the recent classic soul/r&b revival by the likes of Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse which dragged the sounds of the late 60’s into the modern age, Saadiq has created nothing less than a musical time machine: The Way isn’t updated Motown, or a Motown tribute, it is Motown. From the earnest lyrics to the brightly bouncing percussion to the brand of amplifiers used by the studio musicians, nearly every note on this album could have been played during a high school dance in 1968 and no one would have noticed.

Now some will say that Saadiq’s overt influence from r&b’s golden age is somehow unoriginal, and if he had simply done covers of Temptations’ songs I’d agree, but The Way doesn’t sound like anything that’s been done in the last twenty years; what could be more daringly original than that? Just take the lead single Love That Girl, a track that harkens back to a time when harmony truly meant something. While a walking bass line struts in the background, Saadiq lays down a silky falsetto that soars with lines like “You can tell by her smile, she’s such a love child.” It’s the kind of track guys will say they hate when their boys are around, but they’re putting on the stereo as soon as their girl wants to cuddle. While Love That Girl sways with rhythm and motion, Oh Girl winds down the pace for a song that revives the forgotten art of the slow dance, thanks to Saadiq’s perfectly understated vocals (check out the remix with Hova for the modern version). From the electrifying 100 Yard Dash to the Stevie Wonder assisted Never Give You Up, The Way I See It is coolness in its purest form, an almost forgotten brand of coolness that’s unafraid to lay bare the pure emotions modern r&b has hidden behind million dollar posturing.

As deeply as Saadiq immerses himself in the stylings of Otis Redding and Gladys Knight, he can’t help but let little bubbles of modernity emerge time to time. At first blush Let’s Take A Walk sounds as authentically old school as the rest of the album, but the mood quickly takes a steamy turn as Saadiq proclaims, “This place is crowded, don’t know bout you, but I need some sex, some sex with you.” It may sound innocent, but after nearly an hour of Saadiq’s love notes it’s enough to shock. By contrast Big Easy is a moving ode to post-Katrina New Orleans, a track that in typical Big Easy fashion turns a funeral into a party with Saadiq letting loose with his most soulful vocals on the album while special guests the Rebirth Brass Band lays down some mean horns. Does all that make The Way I See It a classic album in it’s own right? I can’t go that far, but let me put it this way: if someone painted another version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, would the newer version be any less beautiful simply because it was new? Of course not. Well then Raphael Saadiq is Michelangelo, and The Way I See It is his Sistine Chapel.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted September 22, 2008
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