Saadiq's voice, combined with songs that would lift any party, saves the day.
Chris Jones 2009-02-27
Raphael Saadiq, the multi-talented R 'n' B singer/instrumentalist/producer behind Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl has with his fourth solo album, made a classic. Or rather, The Way I See It, an expertly constructed collection of soul pop, 'sounds' like a classic. Its cleverly (some might say, cynically) assembled pastiches of 60s and early 70s soul legends' greatest moments is a bouncy, varied feast that's undeniably irresistible. But does it really compare with what it emulates?
There's absolutely no denying the former Charlie Ray Wiggins's skill here. He's really studied his source material (ie: classic Motown and Philly soul). Avoiding any references to the 'Winehouse/Duffy/Ronson effect' (the seemingly unending slew of slavish soul reconstructions that pass for pop these days) is hard. But to be fair there's a very big musical brain at work here; playing most of the instruments, writing most of the material and really capturing the sound of Detroit in an uncanny manner,even down to the electric sitar on Oh Girl.
From its faux 60s cover to the fact that you spend virtually every second while listening spotting the references (Sure Hope You Mean It = How Sweet It Is etc) there's an equal case for wondering what purpose there is in photocopying one of pop's greatest periods. Maybe the clue's in the cover images of Saadiq in sharp 60s suit and tie, complete with Malcolm X glasses. It's hard not to see such a coagulation of America's most recent great political and cultural shift as a reflection of our own times. In other words, what we're listening to may well be the first true post-Obama expression of hope in record form.
The album's real virtues lie in its variety. Saadiq handles blues bump 'n grind of the Marvin Gaye variety and righteous civil rights/gospel work outs on the heartfelt Big Easy. This lament for the wake of Hurricane Katriona appears in two versions. One horn-blasted, the other, a stripped back clap-fest. The only egregious slip is in the usual 'guest star' treadmill. Jay-Z's 'turn' on the second mix of Oh Girl is unbelievably lame, though Joss Stone's contribution to the Stylistics-styled Just One Kiss sees her taking her blue-eyed soul into Janis Joplin territory. No bad thing. Mind you introducing Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo halfway through Never Give You Up reeks nastily of egotism. Surely it speaks for itself?
Overall, Saadiq's voice, combined with songs that would lift any party, saves the day. Perhaps The Way I see it should be treated as a long lost Northern Soul rarity and we should pretend that it really was made 40 years ago. No matter, it's classy, sleek and it sure beats listening to the sound of black America telling you how many guns, girls and bits of jewelry it's got. That's hope enough...