REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/09/2001
Everybody who has never heard "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" can stop reading right now. 'Fraid we cater to a bit more well-versed crowd sometimes, and this review of Talking Book, Stevie Wonder's 1972 release, isn't going to focus on either of the two radio songs - "Sunshine" and "Superstition." Yeah, they're good songs - but the rest of this album is so amazing, it's hard to imagine that these were the only songs that made it to mainstream radio.
"Maybe Your Baby" is a long, sometimes rambling song with amazing funk keyboards and some very interesting things done on guitar by Ray Parker Jr. The drums are also quite interesting, with some unexpected rhythms slammed out on the cymbals. The whole thing seems to be an instrumental jam with lyrics slapped on top, repeated ad infinitum by the background vocalists. The booklet doesn't list any names - I don't have the remastered version - so I'm curious whether that's Wonder or stock crooning.
"You And I" is one of the most heartfelt, low-key songs I've heard in a long time; particularly from 1971 Motown. It's not overdone, it's not even approaching funk, and it's honest. I find it to be very beautiful, with a bit of a theremin style vibe in the background somewhere. "Tuesday Heartbreak" isn't terrible, but it's a bit passable. More up-tempo than "You And I," but not quite a "rocker," it sits nicely in the middle as a funk-oriented shuffle.
"You've Got It Bad Girl" features Wonder's keyboard playing abilities pretty well, and his voice returns to the emotional, but it doesn't sound as raw and meaningful as some of the other songs on the album.
Ok, at this point, I really should pay attention to "Superstition," which, despite being overplayed, is amazingly good. Listen to Stevie Funk It Up! With "Big Brother" we hear keyboards that, the first time I listened, I would have *sworn* were guitar. They do some interesting things, sounding very similar to re-processed acoustic strumming. Wonder returns to soulful singing again, from slightly smug on the previous cut. He continues with this into "Blame It On The Sun," another great cut.
The last two songs segue directly, and it certainly is a good experience to hear them do so. I gushed about "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)" in another review, for the High Fidelity soundtrack, and here it fits so much better - "Lookin' For Another Pure Love" seems fulfilled by the ending track. Both are filled with great performances, and "Lookin'" even has Jeff Beck on guitar.
This album is definitely greater than the sum of its parts; which, in retrospect, is probably why only two tracks are still heard frequently on the radio. This is my first Stevie Wonder purchase, but it certainly won't be my last.