Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Raphael Saadiq

  • Instant Vintage [Universal, 2002] A-
  • The Way I See It [Columbia, 2008] A
  • Stone Rollin' [Columbia, 2011] A-
  • Jimmy Lee [Columbia, 2019] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Instant Vintage [Universal, 2002]
Concentrate on it or fuck to it--anything in between and it'll seem too hookless for pop, too quiet for funk, too slight for words. The structural strategy draws on erotic strategy--start off indirect and bloom into arousal, mouthwork, song. Individual tracks work that way, and so does the album as a whole, which honors the sacred memory of Tony Toni Toné more supplely than Lucy Pearl and may be more woman-friendly to boot. With Lucy Pearl, I could never concentrate long enough to notice--which is why I suspect that, effectively, Saadiq's album may be more woman-friendly than Joi's, too. A-

The Way I See It [Columbia, 2008]
In 1996, Saadiq turned the climactic Tony! Toni! Toné! album into a virtuoso history lesson. Six years later, he tried to dazzle Maxwell in his own reflected glory. Six years later yet again, he outdoes himself with a fearless return to retro. Singing with the obliging malleability of last Temptation Dennis Edwards, emoting with the sweet specificity of miracle worker Smokey Robinson, he goes Motown with so much joy in one-man-band craft he'll not only convince the girl he's sweet-talking that this is forever, he'll convince you. This late in the game he's got no time for filler. Even the Katrina lament "Big Easy" stays within the parameters of a genre he inhabits from the inside out. A

Stone Rollin' [Columbia, 2011]
One problem with dropping a tour de force out of the blue is that it sends expectations skyrocketing. So as we should have figured, the hook density is down three years after The Way I See It as the former Ray Wiggins declines to provide another dozen perfect Holland-Dozier-Holland songs. In fact, the born bassist now seems obsessed with groove rather than song. More Prince than Ray Parker Jr., he plays with himself to beat the band, and makes these 10 tracks bump and pulse. And then you notice even the less pneumatic ones connecting as songs. Fearing hell or working two jobs or fixing to buy what he can't afford, Saadiq sounds something like natural. Only when you do the math--three tracks a year, hmm--do you remember that natural's not in it. A-

Jimmy Lee [Columbia, 2019]
Having made his solo name as a reinvigorator of tight, hooky, complexly cheerful Motown retro, the former Tony! Toni! Toné! headman's first album since 2011 reverts to an updated version of T!T!T!'s slick modernist r&b. Musically, the effect is to locate it stylistically in a tragic vision of black life that's devoid of street and hood--of realities turned hip hop commonplaces that too often ignore the complexities Saadiq addresses on this one-of-a-kind album: stress, addiction, AIDS, domestic combat, love that's not enough, money problems that keep on keeping on, and mass incarceration. The only surefire hook is the whole of a gospel march called "My Walk" that's even darker than the climactic "Rikers Island Redux." But Kendrick Lamar will get your attention when he leads a finale that's also a coda: "How can I change the world but can't change myself?/How can I please the world but not God himself?/How can I have the world still need some help?/How can I see the world stuck in this box?" A-

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