The Way I See It
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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
Saadiq has spent most of his solo career toying with various flavors of retro, including 2002’s “gospedelic” Instant Vintage and the blaxploitation pastiche that was 2004’s Ray Ray. This album, however, is an entirely different beast; rather than simply using bits and pieces of bygone sounds to build something new, Saadiq has enveloped himself in Motown’s golden era, coming up with a dozen tracks that Holland, Dozier, and Holland would have been proud to call their own – and dressing them up in arrangements and production that rip several chapters out of the Norman Whitfield playbook.
Of course, going back to the Motown well doesn’t make Saadiq unique; artists have been doing that for decades. What sets The Way I See It apart is how deeply authentic it feels. Saadiq has been quoted as saying he wondered where the classic sounds he loves came from – how groups like the Delfonics and the Stylistics made their magic. You can feel that sense of wonder here – yes, the album contains all the requisite orchestral trills and go-go beats you’d expect from this sort of project, but more importantly, Saadiq’s songs carry the spirit that inspired them. Putting a finger on what makes the difference is next to impossible – heck, if it wasn’t, you’d hear more albums like The Way I See It – but it’s unquestionably there: Inside Saadiq’s joyous, eternally boyish vocals, within his lean, instantly memorable melodies, and soaked into the copious amounts of reverb that coat the whole thing like honey.
All that said, The Way I See It isn’t a perfect album; for whatever reason, Saadiq chose to break the spell with a couple of trendy cameos (Jay-Z pops in during a tacked-on remix of the album track “Oh Girl,” and the dreaded Joss Stone shows up for a duet on the otherwise flawless “Just One Kiss”), and really, no matter how good these songs are, they can’t help but trigger an impulse to reach for the real stuff. Make no mistake, this is the type of record you can easily listen to for a solid couple of days – but you’re probably going to be thinking about Smokey Robinson and the Temptations while you do.
These quibbles keep The Way I See It from true classic status, but in the big picture, they’re fairly minor. Mass-market soul and R&B have been in rather dire straits for the past several years – and even though this album stands little chance of righting the ship, it will provide many hours of hard-earned entertainment for music lovers who have wondered why they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Raphael Saadiq has given us the answer: They just haven’t been trying hard enough.