Review Summary: A fun and timeless sounding soul album for the iPod generation.
I’m too young to really
care about Raphael Saadiq, and yet I do. I’ve been intrigued by the guy ever since the eerie video for “Get Involved” hit airwaves back in ’99. And I guess I’m also too young for The Way I See It
to be nostalgic, and yet it is. In many ways Saadiq’s The Way I See It
is an album caught in a time-lapse; the cover, the hooks, and the production just scream 60s. And yet it never feels retrofitted. Instead of cashing in on the recent soul-pop revival, The Way I See It
is more like Saadiq playing the music he grew up loving. It’s nothing like the British songstresses coming out these days, and it's certainly better for it.
See, The Way I See It
is a classic sounding soul album. Aesthetically, it’s right in line with Sam Cooke, the Funk Brothers or even Gladys Knight. It’s a believable classic sweet soul album, only it came out in 2008. The Way I See It
doesn't rely on its retro-throwback sound as a selling point. Of course it still is, but the fact remains that on The Way I See It
, Saadiq comes off like an artist who's had his successes and now just wants to let loose and record the album he probably dreamt of making as a kid.
Predictably, The Way I See It
runs the gamut of classic sounding soul. “Sure Hope You Mean It” and “Keep Marchin'” bring the swing and bop about with the lighthearted “black music for white people” sound that was so hot so long ago. “Sure Hope You Mean It” uses a subtle clink to accompany the beat and while it's more likely a digital chime effect it kind of reminds the listener of those swingin' sixties parties, the Simpsons' imagination of Hugh Hefner playing “Peter and the Wolf” on a set of wine glasses. “Keep Marchin'” and its guitar hook borrow heavily from Ben E. King's “Stand By Me”, a familiar sound that rears its delightful head occasionally throughout the rest of the album.
Inspired by Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina doc When The Levees Broke, “Big Easy” is a song with two distinct faces. Musically carried by sometimes-haunting, sometimes-soothing background vocals, walloping horns and a jumpin' and jivin' New Orleans feel,”Big Easy” sees Saadiq pairing the track's Party-Gras backdrop with an incredibly depressing story of a child lost in the water. With his voice offset by a distinct hollowness, Saadiq begs, “somebody please tell me what's going on, I haven't seen my baby in far too long”. Simultaneously blending the bleak (the lyrics) with the uplifting (swingin' piano and brass solos), truth with fiction, “Big Easy” is possibly the most poignant (or perhaps the only poignant) track on an otherwise light-hearted album.
“Just One Kiss” features frequent Saadiq collaborator Joss Stone and carries out like Barry White's “Can't Get Enough”. What's most shocking is that, perhaps as a result of their working relationship, Saadiq somehow [mostly] encourages Stone to restrain herself from over-singing. Quite possibly a first (and last) for the English songstress. The legendary and apocryphal Stevie Wonder appears on “Never Give You Up” and if you can believe it, never sings a word. Instead Saadiq shares vocal duties with up-and-coming Baltimore vocalist CJ while Stevie takes Saadiq's invitation (in the spirit of Stevie's famous invitation to Dizzy Gillespie) as his cue to deliver a short but sweet harmonica solo. Of course even without singing a word Stevie's presence is felt, his harmonica adding further authenticity to an already Wonder-riffic sounding tune.
The album's mostly fluffy nature does result in it wearing thin toward the end, but this does little to diminish the album's overwhelming likability. However had it been anything other than a bonus track, the “Oh Girl” remix (featuring Jay-Z) would probably be just enough to take the album down a peg. Calling it bad is an understatement: Jay-Z should never sing. Ever. The remix makes him seem more like Sean Kingston than the H.O.V.A and an insult that goes way is never a good thing.
The Way I See It
isn't going to blow any minds, but it might open a few eyes. For many, The Way I See It
is a first exposure to Saadiq's unique and versatile voice, and while it probably won't cause Tony! Toni! Toné! album's to fly off the shelves, it'll at least awaken the world to Saadiq's talent as a vocalist, instrumentalist and producer.