Album review: 'The Way I See It,' by Raphael Saadiq
Nineties-R&B fans probably know Raphael Saadiq better as one-third of Tony Toni Tone. Along with his slinky bass, Saadiq’s sugar-sweet tenor was the group’s main voice, and their Motown influence could be heard bubbling under the surface.
Saadiq’s "Instant Vintage" (2002) honed that jones a little further, incorporating old-school R&B elements with some neo-soul touches, a sort of Marvin Gaye for the modern man.
"The Way I See It," however, goes all the way back to Gaye’s beginnings, as Saadiq presents 40 minutes of retro soul with nary a modern touch in sight, right down to the warm, slightly-fuzzed guitars and simple, straightforward romanticism.
A cynic might accuse Saadiq of riding a wave that probably really began with Britain’s Jamie Lidell, whose 2005 “Multiply” contained a lot of ultramodern production but also had a lot of moves reminiscent of the late, great Sam Cooke. Enter Amy Winehouse and Duffy, who both channel that same era of Dusty Springfield and Diana Ross. Over the summer, both Solange Knowles and Canadian soul singer Divine Brown released albums that used similar instrumentation.
And it would be an easy accusation to make, if Saadiq weren’t so precise and excellent in his execution. From the opening shuffle of “Sure Hope You Mean It” to the doo-wop-inspired “Calling,” everything about "The Way I See It" is pure oldies pedigree, and at a time when nine out of 10 R&B singers are tweaking their voices to death with Auto-Tune, an album recorded with a bunch of analog instruments has a certain appeal to it.
There’s also something appealing in Saadiq’s innocent approach to both romance (“Just One Kiss,” which snatches bits of the Temptations “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination”) and politics (“Big Easy”). There are no thinly-veiled food-sex metaphors or pimp fantasies; just a man in love with the musical acumen to emulate his idols.
It’s a brave move, quite frankly. There isn’t a single song that would fit into the format of any modern rap/R&B radio station. But that has nothing to do with its quality.
"The Way I See It" plays like the best early-period Marvin Gaye album you never heard.
Listen to samples at Amazon.com.