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I don't think anyone in the world can actually say they dislike Stevie Wonder after listening fully to albums like Innervisions, Talking Book, or Songs in the Key of Life. They are simply the most likeable albums ever made. No one dislikes Stevie Wonder. I really mean that. Whatever music taste one may have, somehow Stevie always fits right in there. My friends who love electronica love him, my punk friends love him, my metal-head friends love him, my 70s classic rock fans love him....everyone. He's probably the most universally loved artist next to the Beatles, and its all because of the optimism that leaks out of every one of his notes.
Morten Felgenhauer <Morten.Felgenhauer@kvaerner.com> (17.01.2001)
First of all I will beg George to reconsider his feelings of Motown. Yes, it was a production line and the music was often very polished (to reach out to a white audience - Motown was the first internationally successful record company run by black people). But the music they produced is very GOOD. Don't let your principles stop you from appreciating good music. You like the Monkees, don't you? They weren't 'real' either, but their music was often of high quality. There are other greats of black music as well, which you haven't covered (yet?): James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. These were definitely NOT on a production line, producing highly original and exiting music well out of Motown's reach. I'll give you time to aquire their records (double compilations), but don't ignore them!
Then to the main subject, Stevie Wonder. In the 60s he was on that production line along with the rest of them, first as a 12 year old virtouso on harmonica and as he grew older was recieving more 'serious' material. He gradually began producing his own songs within the Motown boundaries. This period is best appreciated by a compilation. As you mentioned he began freeing himself from the limitations forced on the artists by the company. The first true product of this process was Music of my mind * * * *. It's not as consitent as later efforts, but he was beginning to find his true musical self. Then he reached his Classic period and for five years he could do no wrong: Talking Book * * * * *, Innervisions * * * * * *, Fulfillingness' First Finale * * * * * and Songs in the key of life * * * * * * (Rated on a scale from one to six). These albums are brimful of his trademark melodies, jazzy chord progressions and energic rhythms. But I don't agree that they're all 'smiling' pop songs. Of course he couldn't keep it going forever and although Journey through the secret life of plants * * * * and Hotter than July * * * * have their moments, his later career should be approached with care.
Let's remember this genius for more than "I just called to say I love you".
[Special author note: like I said, I have nothing against Motown personally - the production line is what bothers me most, because my principle of 'review everything' would drive me to collecting everything released, say, by the Temptations, and I have not the least intention of becoming a Motown expert. I'll leave that to D.B.Wilson. So basically, there's no disagreement here: Motown did produce a large share of good music, it's just that the production line resulted in heaps of conventional filler as well, which I have no wish of sitting through.]
Palash Ghosh <email@example.com> (07.03.2001)
I liked Stevie Wonder a lot when I was a teenager, then I ignored him for about 15 years. As an adult, his music is still impressive, but I got tired of his overly-sentimental attitudes and sappy lyrics. I enjoy him when I'm in the right mood -– and I'm clearly not always in the mood to hear a blind happy man singing endlessly about peace and love!
I notice that you have focused solely on Stevie's career after 1970. He actually first came up as a Motown star in 1962 (when he was only 12 or so) -- his earlier records are interesting because of the energy and effervescence that only an adolescent prodigy can bring.
Stevie has become a cliche and a parody -- he's become victimized by his own huge success and popularity. Still, he has created a vast body of work and his best songs are some of the best musical statements of the past 35 years. Although he has a totally different style, I always equated Stevie with Elton John -– that is, a one-man music 'corporation' who pretty much ran out of gas as they entered their 30's and just coasted along on their enormous fame.
Glenn Wiener <firstname.lastname@example.org> (05.07.2001)
An extremely talented musician in all respects. The man has a deep range and puts much inflection and style into his delivery. On top of that, Steve can play almost any instrument without seeing the keys, strings, etc… that he is playing. And his songs are a thing of beauty even if some of the fade outs are a bit overdone. Most of all, Stevie brings passion to his work. And that has made him the successful artist that he is for so many years.
Kelli Gainous <KTGainous@mail.municode.com> (06.11.2002)
I love Stevie Wonder and there is no way you can compare John Lennon (you gotta be kidding) to him. I think you're just white and have no soul and can only listen to those soulless people who can't even sing, much less hit a high note (i.e., John Lennon, Paul McCartney, All of the Beatles). Stevie Wonder's hit in the 1980's weren't overly great, but there is no comparison between him and (ugh) John Lennon.
George <email@example.com> (21.10.2003)
I would like to comment on your thoughts about Stevie Wonder: "Nevertheless, I do not think his melodic skills, not to mention the diversity of his musical stylistics, really match the skills of such untouchable greats as Lennon or McCartney; and sometimes his albums take a really long time to get into, unlike... well, unlike some others."
I think Stevie's melodic ability is simply unparalleled. Paul is probably the best melodic pop songwriter of all time after Stevie, but John Lennon is nowhere close... Also, very few have matched the "diversity of his musical stylistics". Perhaps Edgar Winter, Prince, and just a handful of others.... not even the Beatles have so idiosyncratically and seamlessly combined several genres into one coherent piece of music. Thirdly, the fact that it may have taken longer for you to get into his albums does not mean that it is a universal fact.... Maybe for someone who is not into rhythm & blues and soul music it takes longer to get his music.... Also, from personal experience, I have learned that usually the longer it takes to get an artist's work and finally understand and appreciate it, the more musical and spiritual depth that piece of music has, and the more timeless it is.
Another thought of yours I'd like to comment on is: "I tend to take him as simply the very, very best in the genre - a person intentionally limiting himself to more or less simple pop, funk, and R'n'B structures, but demonstrating signs of unmatched greatness within the formula." (and please forgive me for having to quote you so much) I think that Stevie Wonder is one of those guys (along with Ray Charles and Prince) who simply transcends his genre.... he may be officially an r&b artist, but he seemingly appeals to everyone. Stevie is one of the few artists who was daring enough to be very boldly experimental musically and yet continue to attract listeners every time. Stevie had no "formula" (unlike someone like Lennon, for instance), and he did everythign BUT limit himself to simply pop, funk, and r&b structures. You statement is similar to saying "the Beatles were stylistically limited".... I find it totally ridiculous...
I see you DO like Stevie wonder a lot even though you say you find him a bit overrated. I don't see how being overrated matters here at all as long as you enjoy his music a lot. Anyway, forgive this for being a e-mail full of mostly negative comments... as you'd expect I'm a very big Stevie Wonder fan, and of course I do agree with a lot of the things you said on Stevie's page!!
[Special author note: please let me clarify. When I say that Stevie's melodic skills do not match Lennon's, the meaning is not that Lennon's melodies are more complex - they are not - or more experimental - which they can be sometimes, but that's not often the case. The meaning is that Lennon is able to make a simple-but-great, almost spontaneous, melody, which will overwhelm in an instant without even taking much time to develop it, whereas with Stevie, labour is very much an essential component. Also, Lennon does not have any formula - what formula? - while Stevie rarely completely backs away from the r'n'b genre cliches; his singing style, for instance, is pretty generic as far as these things go. I don't see Stevie doing straightaway hard rock or attempting symph-prog or venturing into avantgarde territory, either. Not that I'm complaining, because in many ways he does transcend the genre and he does appeal to everyone.]
No reader comments yet.
Troy Barlow <HandCannon@aol.com> (22.01.2001)
I think it is insane to compare Stevie to other musicians on the same level. I mean there's no argument in the fact that he was born a prodigy and grew to be a genius, I would go as far as to say a modern day Mozart or Beethoven. Yet comparing Stevie to Paul McCartney is like comparing Jim Abbot to Nolan Ryan, imagine what the guy could do with two hands. How can we compare a blind musician to ones with great visions? Let's see McCartney walk into the studio with a blindfold on and cut a track that doesn't suck as much as 'the mull of kintyre'. I consider Stevie to be the biggest musical genius of the last 40 years, his vision impairment having a lot to do with it. Talking Book was the first Stevie album I got into and there's no denying it's power. 'Superstition' has always been one of my favorite songs, it has so much 'funk' to it, from the opening drum ramp to the intro of stevie's dirty synth work. His vocals are also amazing, from the relaxed and groovy feel of "Sunshine..." to the cries on "Big Brother. (he's a much better singer than McCartney, IMO). This album is good, I think 9 is a solid score, but just wait till you get Innervisions that'll shake your ass. Blonde On Blonde rules. Later
Mark Blakemore <MarkBlakemore@hotmail.com> (20.02.2001)
I think this is my favourite Stevie Wonder set from his strong body of work from this period. To think that Stevie Wonder was around 21 at the time makes this almost entirely self-performed album something special. I think very few artists if any, have Stevie Wonders diversity, from burning rock Funk ('Superstition') to gentle, moving ballads ('Blame it on the Sun').
I think its also apt that Stevie Wonder used the finally completed 'Electric Ladyland' studio for these recordings - bringing the studio some much needed income and kudos in the wake of Hendrix's death. Retrospectively it seems that Jimi and Stevie may also be the two most respected and best-selling black artists in the mainstream rock market.
By all accounts the maturing of Stevies monies from his Motown work allowed him to block book the studio and the Synthesisers required to allow his full vision of artistic independence. Most of the tracks on his four early Seventies albums were all knocked out in all night, marathon sessions in electric Ladyland. The synthesiser obviously opening up many creative avenues fro Stevie's melodic and rhythmic ability.
I think this is also my favourite album because of its showcasing of Stevies wonderful musical ability on Drums and particularly keyboards. The synths dominate but his use of the Clavinet also allows Stevie to produce almost guitar like effects on 'Superstition' and 'Tuesday Heartbreak'. The only notable guitar work is by Jeff Beck - who decorates 'Lookin' for another pure Love' with a wonderfully delicate solo. Stevie promised Jeff the track 'Superstition' in return for his work - before using the same track to broker a new contract with Motown and in turn having a massive hit single.
Incidently his ex-wife Syreeta contributed to much of the lyric work on the album - and their collaboration continued on two Stevie produced albums Syreeta and Presents Syreeta that also appear to have been largely written and performed in the same sessions as the albums from this classic period.
For me I'd give the Talking Book album a 13/14 out of 15. I'd rate it more highly than the proceeding albums as it also set the template and feel for Stevie's following work.
Palash Ghosh <firstname.lastname@example.org> (07.03.2001)
Talking Book was the first Stevie Wonder album I ever heard and it made me an instant fan. It's all here: tasteful synthesizer, soaring melodies, funky grooves, dazzling arrangement –- it established him as a major and brilliant pop star, having freed himself from the 'Motown plantation.'
'I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)' is utterly gorgeous. 'Superstition' (which I think is the only non-love song here) is unforgettable -– right off the bat it hooks you in with that whatever-it-is (a synth? a clavinet?). It's pure magic.
'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,' 'Lookin' For Another Pure Love' and 'Blame It On The Sun' are each memorable and incredible tunes.
But my very fave track on this record is 'You and I'-- how can you possibly call this the album's 'weakest cut'???? This is a love ballad supreme!!! The only two 'weak' tracks are 'Maybe Your Baby' (which is tad too repetitive) and maybe 'You've Got It Bad Girl' -– but even these are pretty good numbers.
I agree that Stevie perhaps should have varied the subject matter a bit more (too many love songs) but when the music is this good, that's a very minor criticism.
The Doc <email@example.com> (17.02.2003)
BLAME IT ON THE SUN IS A WONDERFUL SONG IN THE FACT THAT THE LYRICS ARE SO SIMPLE BUT RING TRUE TO SO MANY PEOPLE WHOSE RELATIONSHIPS HAVE BROKEN UP AND TRIED TO BLAME IT ON CERTAIN FACTORS BUT DEEP DOWN BLAME IT ON THEMSELFES. A TRULY MOVING SONG
Shor Bowman <firstname.lastname@example.org> (11.02.2001)
Gotta agree with you here, George. I've been into Stevie Wonder for a longer time than I have Pink Floyd or Queen or bands along that line, and from the beginning I found this album good, not excellent. I find it difficult to see how people could actually call Innervisions a better album than Songs in the Key of Life--and believe me, there are a lot of people that try to do it. For upon closer examination, what's on this album? There are some touching ballads, some funky, jazzy numbers, some Latin swing, and some overblown political statements--nothing unusual. Songs in the Key of Life has each of these in profusity and in higher quality. I would have to agree that, as the album's epic, "Living for the City" is probably the best song...but I think that the only song that this album has on Songs in the Key of Life, in terms of thematics and acoustics, is "Too High"...I really love the jazzy mellow tone of that song, and I can't think of anything on Songs that rivals it. But look at every other track! Songs in the Key has SEVERAL "Golden Lady"'s and "Visions"'s ('Knocks Me Off My Feet', 'Ordinary Pain', 'As'), "Jesus Children of Amercia"'s (what a title), and "Higher Ground" and it even improves upon (almost all of) them. In short, I find this record a little more political, but not nearly as emotionally-charged and not nearly as thought-provoking and not nearly as, well, flat-out beautiful as Songs in the Key of Life. Good as hell, but not as good. I might even give it an 8 on certain days...but that's a bad way to end this. It's good for the sake of us reviewers to compare, but we also must take things unto themselves sometimes, and this is a damn good record. Peace out.
John Davey <email@example.com> (12.02.2001)
Stevie has said in the past that Innervisions is his favourite album, although he considers Talking Book to be a better collection of songs. The latter could probably be said of Songs In The Key Of Life as well. In terms of tracks, I prefer listening to 'I Wish' or 'Summer Soft' or 'Tuesday Heartbreak' or [insert your favourite here] to, say, 'Golden Lady'.
However, Innervisions is much more coherent as an album; both Talking Book and Songs In The Key of Life flit from style to style and don't really flow, particularly the stodgy second record of SITKOL. Whereas, although 'Jesus Children Of America' doesn't work brilliantly on it's own, taken in the context of 'Higher Ground' and 'All In Love Is Fair' it really has an impact on me. The images Stevie creates throughout the album provide a much more vivid picture of his 'Village Ghetto Land' than anything on his other albums, which makes the pay-off of 'He's Misstra Know-It-All' so much more inspiring.
I guess what I'm saying is that although I too have often said I prefer Talking Book and Song In The Key Of Life to Innervisions, I nearly always pull out Innervisions when I want to hear a Stevie album.
It seems that a lot of the comment on your site, both from yourself and readers, is concerned with which album is 'better' than others by an artist and whether an album should get a 12 or a 13, say. Personally, I find this type of discussion difficult to get into; there's so much more to say about all of these records. To assess, for example, Stevie Wonder's albums baldly in terms of the songs is a waste; there's no way you can compare Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants and Songs In The Key Of Life properly in this way because each album has a completely different purpose. I would be much more interested to find out more about the context the albums were released in and what, if any, purpose Stevie had in mind when constructing each album. By doing this, it's possible to get so much more out of listening to each album, rather than just tossing it away because it's 'only a 9'.
I get the feeling that you get bored of the numbers discussion too and feel you have to justify your rankings unnecessarily because of the diehard fans who demand everything gets a 15. Most of your comments are well put and thought-provoking; why not dump the rankings and let people work out for themselves from what you say about the records whether they'll like them or not?
Just a thought - keep up the good work!
George Starostin (12.02.2001)
This last issue actually seems quite biting and actual to me. True, I have been at times considering the possibility of dumping the ratings - which would have lots of immediate reward, as some people actually never read anything but the opening tagline and then fight over the number.
But I'm keeping the numbers anyway, because over time all of these numbers (particularly the overall ratings) have become very significant to me and are no longer just numbers. After all, I'm rating records according to their enjoyability and intelligence, and each number corresponds to a certain intuitive evaluation and attitude in my brains. And then again, we all have a certain hierarchy within us - why deny it and pretend that it isn't so? Hierarchy is good when taken in necessary measure, as it helps systematize your knowledge and your tastes.
As for Innervisions, it's true that I wasted a lot of Web space (approximately 1/3 of the review) just to point out that it is a "thirteen" while SITKOL is, in fact, a "fourteen". But it wasn't just about the numbers: basically, I was saying, that there's nothing on Innervisions that can't be found on SITKOL in a more global perspective. I should also add here that I have never understood the "poorly flowing" tag that is thrown on Talking Book or SITKOL. I don't see any less coherence on there than on Innervisions. How does Talking Book 'flit from style to style' any more than Innervisions? With a couple exceptions, it's just all ballad after ballad - very coherent and excellently flowing. And SITKOL does flit from style to style, indeed, but what's wrong with that? If I rate the Beatles' White Album as a 15/15, it's obvious that I don't buy that idea.
Also, I am certainly not trying to compare SITKOL with Journey. As John rightly states, both albums have a different purpose - it's just that I rate them not as compared to each other, but from a general standard of enjoyability. In that respect, Journey is a very worthy effort, but as a 'half-ambient' musical experience, it doesn't exactly stand up to, say, Brian Eno (with some of whose records it really could be compared). To each his own.
That said, whatever the disagreements may be, I fully agree with John that a number is still only a number - at least, to the readers, who don't actually rate the records according to my principles, and more attention should be paid towards the actual review.
Ward <WhippleW@MWHSE.com> (12.02.2001)
OK, I'll bite -- while I'm far from an expert on all things Stevie, this is still my favorite album of his 70s classics. I think what gives it the edge (for me) over Songs in the Key Of Life is that it's NOT as grandiose as that one; mostly a one man job. It still amazes me that he plays the drums better than I can, and I can see. SITKOL is certainly a fantastic achievement, but there's a lot to take in, and it could stand to be shorter. Also, I may have an advantage since I wasn't expecting to be floored by Innervisions, and was happy to find after sitting thru it that I was. That didn't happen with SITKOL. For Stevie neophytes, this is the economical way to go. THEN they can get SITKOL and get swept away.
Palash Ghosh <firstname.lastname@example.org> (07.03.2001)
If Stevie combined Innervisions with Talking Book you'd have the greatest double album in pop history, matched only by The Beatles White Album.
Stevie gets a bit more 'hard-edged' and political here than the prior record, but the melodies are just as strong and the funk-synth-bass arrangements are even more complex and exciting.
I can't find a single flaw on this album, I think it's one of the greatest records ever made, and Stevie's finest accomplishment.
The singing on 'All In Love Is Fair' is spine-tingling (sometimes we forget what a terrific vocalist Stevie is when we concentrate on his brilliance as a multi-faceted musician).
'Living For The City' is glorious (perhaps the 'theatrics' in the middle could've been removed). 'Jesus Children Of America' is touching, 'Higher Ground' is pure funk, 'Golden Lady' is a joy and I just love 'He's Misstra Know-It-All' to death, especially the robust 'gospely' singing at the rousing close.
But my fave track here is 'Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing' which you (George) seem to dismiss as 'lightweight' -– but listen closely to this song, not only does it explode with melody, excitement and joy, the background is as varied and impressive as 'Hey Jude'! Is Jude 'lightweight'??
Amazing to think that Stevie was only 23 or 24 at his peak!
Glenn Wiener <email@example.com> (30.07.2001)
-An All-Timer for sure. Nine songs all of them classics and loaded with hooks, strong vocals, and catchy instrumentation. 'Living for the City' is probably the tour de force but 'Golden Lady' is oh so pretty. Its not wonder that eight of the nine tracks made it on to Stevie’s Box Set, At The Close of A Century. A strong candidate for my Desert Island discs.
Tagbo Munonyedi <firstname.lastname@example.org> (23.01.2006)
I guess there are a variety of ways of looking at records and different people relate to the same sounds differently for all kinds of reasons. Two particular ways of viewing albums are a) seeing them in the context of the whole body of work of that particular artist ( which means taking into consideration a whole range of extra - musical elements ) and b) taking the said album on it's own. Personally I think both are valid and have their place. With Stevie Wonder's Innervisions I can happilly take both approaches and more, but however I come to it, it is still a superb album and for me, the best thing this phenomenal artist did. It's doubtlessly true that SITKOL covers all the ground Innervisions did - whether it did so better is anyone's guess and everyone's opinion ! In some ways it would be odd if someone on a roll like he was on in the 70s didn't improve on this album, the same way I think this is an improvement on Talking Book. When all is said and done, there is alot more said than done [!] and it's the songs, the songs......."Too High" - it's hard to write anti drug songs without sounding self righteous and condescending but he manages it here in a most funky way ! That's what I liked about him in those days - whatever the message, it was the overall music that mattered.
"Visions" - this wouldn't've been out of place in the hippy era..... except that as a black man I have always perceived this as Stevie being a bit cynical, almost like he's saying that he wants to believe, but the reality always overwhelms the vision.
"Living for the city" - well, we all know about this, a great song, I love the middle section and I'm surprized that after 26 years I've not tired of it. But as good as this is, it has a better predecessor in Talking Book's "Big brother"
"Golden Lady" - For me, one of the most sublime love songs ever penned, by anyone....no slush, no pap, no cliches, no fluff, beautifully sung, wonderfully constructed with a hook and solo to kill or die for [take your pick] !
"Higher Ground" - Although I like the lyrics, I can see why people may feel that the song has shortcomings in the words dept.....but this is a good example of how having the funk can drive a good song to......higher ground, ha ha.
"Jesus Children of America" - Anyone that knows I'm a christian would think it predictable that I would like this one, but in fact for many years as an atheist I liked it ! Actually, I think it's a weird song that never really resolves itself and as such, is the most searching and questioning song on the album, even more so in it's own way than "Visions".
"All is Fair in Love" - Oh, the yearning and acheing expressed in this tearjerker ! It's so painful but it makes for a good listen and as pointed out is so well sung. I think his troubled marriage to Syreeta is plundered beneficially here.
"Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" - This is definitely a lightweight, jolly piece but for good reason - up to this point [and indeed on the 2 preceeding albums] the songs have been so deep or heavy or painful or all three.....This one simply is the steam pressure valve in the collection and a brilliant one it is too. The power of positive thinking ? This is almost "tails" to Vision's "heads"
"He's Misstra Know - it - All" - I dig all the songs on this album but IMHO each of the side closers logically top what has come before and this hilarious swipe at Nixon and his ilk is the best way Innervisions could have finished. It's marvelous and the sequence of notes in the middle bits ["when you say he' s living fast.........."] is truly something I wish I'd written. A great way to end.
Is this LP overrated ? I don't know. But whether it is or isn't has zilch to do with me. All I know is that long before I was aware of it's reputation, I thought it was magnificent - and I still do.
Glenn Wiener <GJW0721@aol.com> (22.06.2001)
Now try stating that record title five times fast and see if your tongue can handle it. Anyway, a good review indeed although the last two songs have elements that are both introspective and a bit funky. Nonetheless, this is an excellent recording that is almost on the same level as the highly acclaimed Innervisions.
Palash Ghosh <email@example.com> (07.03.2001)
Before I start this review, I should say that I have not heard Songs in the Key of Life in many years; in fact, I don't even have it on CD yet; but, based on your glowing recommendation, George, I shall buy it and give it a NEW APPRAISAL.
Okay, having said that, let me say that I was bitterly disappointed by this album back in the 1970's. After hearing (and being dazzled by) Talking Book and Innervisions, I expected Songs in the Key of Life to be the masterpiece to end all masterpieces. But, it was such a let-down! There's really only a handful of good/great songs on it, namely 'I wish', 'Isn't she lovely,' 'Knocks me off my feet' and 'Ordinary pain,' Other than that, it's BORING! This wasn't Stevie's (if you'll pardon the expression) 'white' album!
Didier Dumonteil <firstname.lastname@example.org> (23.03.2001)
This page is not written by from the point of view of a Wonder fanatic etc etc etc.Stevie Wonder most of the time gets on my nerves ("living for the city""sunshine of my life""I've just called to say I love you" yadda yadda yadda).But this album is different:the ballads are first-rate!
Take "village ghetto land" :the tune is that of a XVII th century menuet in the court of Louis the King,and the lyrics describe a nightmarish landscape where "starvation roams" and "people buy dogfood".The contrast between content and form has never been more acute.I've been thinking about it and really I can't think of another song.("piggies",you're gonna say,but piggies was a satire)"Pastime paradise" -later part of the soundtrack of the politically very correct "rebellious minds"-shows a little more hope than the latter,and the melody is gorgeous too."If it's magic " lives up to its name:it's magic flesh on the bone.Dig Dorothy Ashby's harp."Joy inside my tears " recalls G.Harrison's "all things must pass" atmosphere."Isn't she lovely? ", that predates "Beautiful Boy" became a staple on every FM and AM of the universe.On "Black man",the artist turns into a schoolteacher and lectures us during a long long time about Harriet Tubman,Abraham Lincoln,et al.Too bad he forgot Beecher-Stowe.It's certainly laudable,but stodgy in the long run.Nevertheless,the "double orange album" has several incredible moments worth a close listen,and in the digital age,it's easy to skip the ponderous lessons of civic education.
keefycub <email@example.com> (21.08.2001)
I've listened to this album again recently after about 18 years of letting it languish, and while I think it's a good album, I find that it shouldn't be a double. It shouldn't have been a single album ... this should have been a *triple* at least.
There is a theory in songwriting that something has to happen 62.8% (or somewhere thereabouts) in either direction from the beginning or the end of the piece, to make a successful interesting piece ... the so-called golden mean. It's the distance the bend in your elbow is for the length of your arm .... the distance your eyes are placed down on your head, and so on. This album appears to have absolutely none of that, and I think it moves too fast. "Earth's Creation" explodes out of nowhere in just a few seconds for example, and I think a large buildup would have been better.
Only "Race Babbling" seems to be the proper length, but a lot of people don't like it, because they think it's repetitive. Structurally it's quite simple -- groove with wash, chorus, verse, reference to another song on the album, chorus, verse, chorus, groove with wash, out. And it's 9 minutes long.
Overall I think this album suffers from being rushed through all the concepts .... if there were only two or three numbers per side and they stretched out a little bit (like on Songs In The Key Of Life) perhaps it would be easier to take.
Mike DeFabio <firstname.lastname@example.org> (21.09.2001)
Guess what? IT CLICKED. I get it now. This album was a bit hard for me to get into at first because of it's "lite-rock" sound--you see, as a little kid I was exposed to lite-rock radio a great deal, because that's what my mom always listened to and she was the one who always drove me places. So I was rather surprised and confused when I discovered that songs like "Isn't She Lovely" AREN'T horrid piles of sap but actually beautiful pop songs! About half of these songs are just plain great, and the other half only seem lousy because the better half is so amazing. But the lesser half is great too, except for maybe a couple songs. "If It's Magic" doesn't do a lot for me, "Saturn" is a little too bombastic, the foreign language song is somewhat forgettable, and "Another Star" is a little too discoey. But the rest is first rate. "Love's In Need Of Love Today"? Heartbreaking. "Contusion"? Sounds like Steely Dan! "Black Man"? Preachy but oh-so-funky! "All Day Sucker"? "ALL DAY SUCKER"??? Aw, man. This is a fine, fine album, and I don't care how sissyish songs like "Knocks Me Off My Feet" sound, they're great songs. I like this album.
Matt(the great)Byrd <MatthewByrd@hotmail.com> (23.06.2005)
Well, first I gotta say that I disagree with your Paul McCartney and John Lennon untouchability idea....... Mark Prindle once said that Ray Davies, at the top of his game, was a finer songwriter of both those guys, I would agree. Guys like Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen (ahem), Prince (in a way), Paul Simon (in a way), Randy Newman, Bob Dylan (even though his genius doesn't match Frank Zappa or Bruce), and Elvis Costello, these guys are geniuses on levels that are beyond the two best Beatles. Stevie Wonder, I believe is a guy who IS in the same league as McCartney and Lennon, maybe even on a higher plane. Stevie's greatest assets lay in his immense melodic ability, his voice, and his optimism (not to be confused with "let's be happy forever until we die of muscular distrophy of the mouth because we can't stop smiling because we're surrounded by posies). His originality is exceptional........... but overrated. Also, I don't get why people have a hard time getting into a Stevie Wonder album, I find it very easy, the Beatles are probably the only guys who make an album more accesible. But that's a minor quip. Songs In The Key Of Life is, no doubt, Stevie's tour de force (not to be confused with his most essential.... or maybe even greatest or best). Melodies of all kinds are to be found. The first three tracks have suprisingly subtle melodies, they won't wow you at first (but it'll come, if you're like me, in two or three listens). 'Contusion' is a fine....... yet kind of puzzling instrumental. It's a fine listen though. 'Sir Duke' and 'I Wish', the two big hits are very acessible, but have changing melodies and have a suprisingly long-life of listenablility. Stevie bursts with ideas on this album, Pastime Paradise has probably one of the most noticeable intros in pop music. The album, besides the three big hits ('Sir Duke', 'I Wish', and the absolutely joyous 'Isn't She Lovely?') is bursting with songs that can be placed along side those three....... I'm talking easily. The songs, though, mostly, are not ready for radio play (too long, to....... well, different). Radio though, plays a ton of questionable stuff, so that comment about songs not being ready for the radio, that's not an insult in any way. A certain amount of greatness should automatically be rewarded to Songs In The Key Of Life, because of the melodies. The rest is subjective (well, it all is, really). I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. I'm trying hard not to gush over this bloody great album!!! phew, I had to get THAT (a HUGE fly) off my chest. I also gotta say this. Stevie Wonder, in method, is NOT a great songwriter. At least I think. That's in method, though. His points and aims, though, represent true songwriting talent. Tom Waits, he's a great songwriter, the problem is, though, that he just runs out of ideas. Stevie Wonder, is an adequate, although, sometimes exceptional songwriter. Two opposites, Tom Waits and Stevie Wonder are, yessir. The weak moments, though, on Songs In The Key Of Life, aren't weak because they're half-baked, no their weak becauce their's somthing we don't like about them. Songs In The Key Of Life was a much laboured-over album, the ideas and songs are fully developed. Their aren't songs that are universally hated, there are some that are liked and disliked by a majority, but you'll find advocates of every song, the filler, then, I think, is absolutely minimal. This is Songs In The Key Of Life, if you don't get one of the songs, you probably haven't FELT what you're supposed to feel, the brilliant groundwork, though, has been set. So, I gotta say, George likes 'Joy Inside My Tears' a hellavalot, while it's really the only song on the album that I can REALLY say I absolutely don't like, I almost hate it. I gotta say, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of my favorite albums, and if there is an album to change somebody's perspective on things (yeah, I know, real profound statement), this album is it. NOW, for my rating and favorites!
I don't give overall artist ratings. I WILL give album ratings though!
out of ten, I give it a 9 1/2, there is, although it's minimal, some pomp and circumstance
MY FAVORITE: 'As (Always)'
other song favorites: 'Another Star', 'Summer Soft', 'Isn't She Lovely?', 'I Wish', 'Sir Duke', 'Ebony Eyes', 'Knocks Me Off My Feet', 'Ordinary Pain', 'Village Ghetto Land'
Best Songs: 'I Wish', 'Sir Duke', 'All Day Sucker'
various comments: I find every part of 'Black Man' entertaining, what's wrong with everybody else! The one with different languages, well, one of the languages is some African launguage. 'Joy Inside My Tears' has an ANNOYING melody. 'Saturn' is a song that you CAN get into! Even though it's goofy, you can still like it! The closing song ends this album perfectly. ALSO, INNVERVISIONS CAN CONTEND WITH SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, IT CAN JUSTIFYABLY BE CALLED BETTER, but that's another comment for another day, for another star (;-P).
Your correct. This album is different; but it's genius! Most can not appreciate this music. My musical background is pretty diverse; from Joni Mithcell, Weather Report, Chopin, Syretta Wright to Depeche Mode and the Smiths. This album is complete perfection! Maybe 20 years from now the masses might appreciate it. Thanks for your article.
Donald Z Osborn <email@example.com> (03.06.2000)
Glad you didn't delete -- I've got a quick question and observation concerning the song on Journey through the Secret Life of Plants with Manding lyrics.
The observation, or actually two, is that he seems to be using Mandinka for the "Kesse ye lolo de ye" part (I had heard these lyrics were Bambara, which is practically the same thing, but the pronunciation would be more like "Kisi ye dolo de ye"), but Fula or Wolof for the "Jame Jame" part (though I'm not sure about the latter). What is more intriguing, and most people wouldn't catch on unless it said something on the album/CD cover, is that the reference probably to the Dogon cosmology. Centuries ago the Dogons of what is now central Mali had noted certain characteristics of what we call the Dog Star (Sirius) and in their myths ther was a connection with the seed of a grain grown here in West Africa but unknown in North America -- fonio. This has been mentioned in well known ethnographic publications, and even inspired theories about "ancient astronauts" (remember von Daniken?).
So, my question is whether the liner notes for the album mention anything about the language(s) and/or the Dogon connection in discussing the song. Curious he would use a Manding dialect rather than a dialect of the Dogon language.
BTW, thanks for the review -- the only one I could find...
Palash Ghosh <firstname.lastname@example.org> (07.03.2001)
If Songs In The Key Of Life was Stevie Wonder's Tommy (an over-rated, over-celebrated critical and commercial triumph), then Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants was his Quadrophenia (an unheralded, under-appreciated classic).
This is an AMAZING album -- I agree that the title and the subject matter might've been a turn-off to some people, but listening to the music, you soon realize that it's the same old Stevie: brilliant music just oozing out of every pore!
I generally dislike anything too 'spacey' or 'New Agey' -– but the songs here (especially the instrumentals) just knock me out. He pulled out all the plugs!
It's a shame that 'Send One Your Love' is the only track from this album that the public seems to be familiar with – it's highly atypical of the rest of the material and probably shouldn't have been included on the record. The only tracks I don't like are those two with Japanese and African language verse in them, otherwise, it's a stunning and stellar production. Stevie took a big chance with this record, and I guess he failed with most people, but I think this is a masterpiece
Glenn Wiener <email@example.com> (25.09.99)
One of the better recordings to come out of the mid eighties by an established artist. The melodies are definitely good. Some instrumental definition would be desired though. A little too much special effects and not enough guitars and beat. A good effort but seek out Innervisions, Conversation Peace, and Fulfillingness First Finale beforehand.
Michael J. West <firstname.lastname@example.org> (03.02.2001)
I have little to add. This is good, not great music, but after the completely wacko Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants it sounds like a comeback album of sorts. What I mostly want to express, though, is my belief that "Overjoyed" is the most beautiful, poetic, yearning love song ever written. And that's coming out of Wonder's long, long line of some of the most beautiful love songs ever written--the rest of the popular music world has spent the last 20 years trying to catch up with the level that Stevie took the romantic ballad, but Stevie himself was never able to top "Overjoyed."