Stevie Wonder is one of the rare artists who deserves most of
the hype that he gets. A long and decorated musical career has
resulted in some of the best funk and rhythm-n-blues music ever
saved to recorded media. Perhaps more impressive is his ability to
create the album as a single piece of work; the best Wonder CDs
aren't long collections of single songs, but one seamless entity.
One of the best examples of this is his 1973 CD
Innervisions. The follow-up to his massive, groundbreaking Talking Book, Innervisions is a grand, sweeping, funky collection of The World According To Stevie, full of polemic on politics, religion, life in the inner city, and other weighty topics.
And boy, it could have crashed under its own weight. The fact that it didn't is a tribute to Wonder's genius.
Despite the minimalist packaging of the release I had (liner notes? what liner notes?) the quality of the recording itself is high. Malcolm Cecil's production is spare and elegant; it mixes the rich tapestry of Wonder's arrangements without collapsing under its own weight. The sound is clear and lovely; David Walker and Ralph Hammer's guitars are particularly well-handled, especially on a track like "Visions" with its mix of fingerstyle acoustic and wah-wah electric.
The single that everyone knows off Innervisions is "Higher Ground," more for the exuberant Red Hot Chili Peppers cover from 1989 than for the original. Too bad; Wonder's version kicks out the jams with a funky back-beat and high-hat cymbals setting the pace, similar in feel to his earlier hit "Superstition." That's just the tip of the iceberg, though; there's some serious funk woven all the way through Innervisions. "Too High," "Living For The City," and "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" are all seriously powerful funk, especially the wild spoken word intro on "Worry." The counterpoint is the simple beauty of ballads like "Visions," "All In Love Is Fair," and "Golden Lady." The album's piece de resistance is the acidic and viciously satirical "He's Misstra Know-It-All," Wonder's unflattering portrait of then-President Richard Nixon.
Innervisions is a modern classic, both on its own and combined with Talking Book as what may be the two greatest consecutive albums ever recorded by an American artist. Everyone's CD collection should have a copy.
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