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Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin'
Long before r&b and hip-hop embraced the slim-fit look, electric guitars and prescription wayfarers, Raphael Saadiq was rocking the original geek-chic look like a pro. The completely inoffensive neo-soul funk artiste has had a steady career, never falling too far either side of critical opinion.
Having made his name with trio Tony! Toni! Toné!, Saadiq went on to release his first album Instant Vintage in 2002. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that he established his true credentials as a solo artist with the Grammy-nominated album The Way I See It. Saadiq can also boast a host of producer credits on his CV, having worked with the likes of Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, to name a few.
Despite the aforementioned stuck-in-the-middle anonymity that has both plagued and blessed Saadiq, Stone Rollin’ starts off in a blaze of glory. Opening song ‘Heart Attack’ may actually send you into cardiac arrest. Saadiq does his best impression of James Brown, and it’s impossible to sit still to the relentless intensity of the funk. It’s a mean and uncompromising song to kick off to, and it sets the tone for the first half of the album.
That homage to the godfather of soul is followed immediately by a song that sounds like something out of an Al Green songbook. ‘Go to Hell’ is a dramatic head-swaying, finger-clicking number in which Saadiq’s vocals are as impressive as the nostalgic yet fresh vibe. These aren’t toe-tapping songs; they’re foot-stomping anthems.
It only gets better with ‘Radio’, which shifts to a slightly different, but no less catchy, 60s surfer rock-pop sound. Title track ‘Stone Rollin’ marks a change in tone with its simpler and slower tempo, as does the rest of the album. Songs like ‘Just Don’t’, ‘Good Man’ and ‘Don’t Answer’, descend into the dark and broody territory of a tortured soul – pun totally intended.
This album, more than anything, provokes incredibly vivid imagery; think slightly flared trousers, thick uncompromising moustaches, and Samuel L. Jackson’s hair in Pulp Fiction. The songs become a little self-indulgent, and there is a definite banality to it, in that it doesn’t so much channel the 60s and 70s Motown sound; but rather copies and pastes it. After all, no one can do Marvin Gaye like Marvin Gaye.
Although at forty-four years of age Saadiq is no youngster, he can certainly teach some of the young twenty-something year old r&b stars of today a thing or two.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.