Album Review: Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It

Revivalism is a curious concept in popular music. When listening to an artist that faithfully and lovingly reconstructs the sounds from decades past, there is a fine line between divine inspiration and pale imitation that is indefinable. I can’t, for example, tell you exactly why Amy Winehouse’s homage to the Phil Spector’s girl groups is so raw, honest, and excellent while a band like Wolfmother’s attempt at actually trying to be Led Zeppelin sucks on so many different levels, but I know authenticity when I hear it, and Wolfmother ain’t it. I suppose it has something to do with intentions and an implied amount of respect for the source material. Some artists, like Winehouse, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, or The Exploding Hearts, are able to weave a sense of relevance into their mining of past musical landscapes without coming off as unoriginal rip-offs.

Such seems to be the case with Rapael Saadiq on his 2008 album The Way I See It. The former Tony! Toni! Toné! frontman and New Jack Swing enthusiast has painstakingly written and produced this album that feels like it came straight out of a time capsule from the late 60’s/early 70’s. Saadiq obviously has great love for the well-tread sounds of Motown, Philly, and the Deep South, and he impressively recreates those sounds here with little embellishment or updating. In some cases, the songs stand out due to their subject matter, such as the brassy “Big Easy,” with lyrics that echo Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” as applied to Hurricane Katrina. Others benefit from guest stars, such as Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo on “Never Give You Up” or Joss Stone’s surprisingly restrained vocals on “Just One Kiss.” The one failure in that arena is a clunky and unecessary guest role from Jay-Z on the bonus track version of “Oh Girl.” Another misstep would be the overtly dirty lyrics of “Let’s Take A Walk” that take away from the authenticity of the sound and instead transport the listener into the New Jack territory of Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up.” However, these very minor distractions do little to remove any of the shine from the album and its standout tracks, such as the swinging “Love That Girl” and the driving bass of “100 Yard Dash.”

The current trend of revivalism is still poking its head out in many different genres, from the Spector-infused harmonies of noise poppers The Vivian Girls to the Girl Power sugar pop of The Pipettes. With more and more artists jumping on the revivalist bandwagon and desperately searching for “new” old sounds, it’s very likely that the trend has already begun to fizzle. It’s good to know, though, that occasionally an artist will put out a record that is crafted with loving reverance for the sounds of the past without sounding like a cheap copy. With his detailed homage to great artists such as Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and The Temptations, Raphael Saadiq has done just that.

Raphael Saadiq – “100 Yard Dash”

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