Review Summary: Saadiq introduces rock to his soul and conjures up his best material yet.
It seems bizarre to me that Raphael Saadiq is 45 years old, first appeared on record in 1988 (probably before a lot of the people reading this were even born), and wrote songs it feels like I've been listening to for my whole life, like Lucy Pearl's "Don't Mess with My Man" and Tony Toni Toné's "If I Had No Loot". He just doesn't sound or feel old at all; not only because Stone Rollin'
is an album filled with youthful energy, but because the difference between this and his last album, 2008's surprise break-out The Way I See It
, would have made much more sense if they were his first two albums.
The thing is, men of 45 with over two decades of recording experience under their belts aren't supposed to suddenly find a second wind, or renewed focus. They're supposed to have settled into a groove by that point, a comfort zone from which they can keep releasing material that never threatens to upset the fans that grew up with them. It's the youngsters who are meant to kick on into new territory, suddenly gaining confidence and purpose, always searching for that next level. Yet Saadiq apparently didn't get the memo - all that confidence, all that focus that comes from being an exciteable youngster with something to prove feeds right into Stone Rollin'
. It's as if he feels like his career truly starts now.
really kicks on from The Way I See It
by looking back to find the way to look forward. While Prince informs the sound of this more than anybody, it's a very early-'70s sounding album on the whole (good luck finding a review that doesn't mention Sly & the Family Stone, Funkadelic, and Motown), but there are influences that go back even further than that - Ray Charles and Little Richard in particular inform some of this record's more energetic moments. It's guitar-heavy (some of these songs, "Heart Attack" and the title track particularly, even sound a little like Creedence Clearwater Revival), uptempo, and at a tight ten tracks, completely driven. It also bristles with personality, in a way that can stand up to anything by the Marvins and Stevies of the world.
The songs are belters, too. There are tracks here that are among the high points of 2011 in any genre - "Go to Hell" is a classic soul cut that wouldn't have been out of place coming from The Four Tops or The Spinners, and "Heart Attack" is a textbook study in blending rock and soul without diluting the power of either. Everything on here has appeal, be it through "Radio"'s damn-near flawless rock'n'roll revivalism, "Over You"'s surprisingly tasteful blend of classic soul strings and a Zeppelin-esque drum stomp, the bluesy edge of the title track, or the brilliantly judged flutes on the sultry "Movin' Down the Line".
It was reasonable to expect Saadiq to put out a great album this year, but what's so surprising is how
it's great. Bouyed by the success and acclaim his last album generated, he's seen a chance to move into the upper echelons of modern soul and really grabbed it by the balls. The result is a record that's immediately familiar yet inventive, funky, fun, and always impressive. Not just a career highlight, Stone Rollin'
is also the coolest album of 2011, straight up.