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Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (2008) January 23, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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The Way I See It

Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It

I’ve never seen The Big Chill, but I remember reading about the scene with the yuppie who loves Motown and classic rock and says there was no good music after 1970. I’m not a fan of that attitude. I’m also conscious of the attitude that the blog Stuff White People Like lampooned not too long ago: white people like black music that black people stopped listening to, like jazz and blues. And Motown. As an almost middle-aged white guy, I do think about this stuff sometimes.

So… yeah, this is an album that a lot of white people will like. It’s got that classic Motown style, reminding me of Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and the occasional non-Motown influence like Curtis Mayfield. The thing is, it’s a brand new album.

Raphael Saadiq is a former member of Tony! Toni! Toné!, a commercially successful R&B band that wasn’t really on my radar, and an in-demand producer. He’s had a few other solo albums, but they don’t sound like this. Since buying The Way I See It I’ve bought his previous album Ray Ray as an eMusic download, and it’s a much more wide-ranging, self-indulgent album, drawing on a variety of styles, at times reminding me of old school funk, psychedelic soul, Prince, modern soul balladry, and so on. The Way I See It is much more tightly focused. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, having 13 songs in 42 minutes, all but the last falling so perfectly within that retro Motown sound that you could put them on a mixtape with the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, etc, and they’d fit right in. The last track is an alternate version of one of the album tracks, with Jay-Z rapping. I think the album arguably needed a bit more of this sort of thing to make it a bit more modern and relevant, but that said I don’t actually care much for the track. I think they picked the wrong song to punch up; they should have gone for one of the more upbeat tracks, and I don’t actually like Jay-Z’s style on this one. It’s not a matter of not liking rap; Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco work perfectly well in their bits on Joy Denalane’s sublime 2006 album Born & Raised, as does Kanye West in Estelle’s “American Boy.” I just don’t think this particular track works as well as it might.

But the rest of the album: wow. I can’t dance, but it’s hard to sit still through the upbeat tunes, and the slower tunes recapture the style of the Motown love songs quite well. Plus you get an appearance by popular UK soul revivalist Joss Stone and the legendary Stevie Wonder providing a link to the real Motown. Okay, so it doesn’t blend classic old-fashioned and modern soul and R&B styles the way Estelle’s Shine does, it just recreates the past. But it does it really well, and why should Amy Winehouse have all the fun?

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