Fulfillingness' First Finale
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/2004
What did I miss having not been born in the 70's? Well there was Vietnam, Star Wars, Disco, massive amounts of drugs, Watergate, the works. I can now add to that list, Stevie Wonder.
For a moment, pretend you have never heard a Stevie Wonder song. Forget those insanely memorable hooks and riffs. Forget some of the greatest vocal performances committed to record in the past 40 years. Just mull on this fact: The man was blind.
Every struggling musician out there has had it easy compared to Stevie Wonder. Blind since birth, somehow he was able to master numerous instruments, production techniques, skills all people in the music industry would kill to have had. And instead of his music containing anger or spite towards the world and God, the man embraced them. Wonder's albums are expressions of the man's feelings.
Fulfillingness' First Finale was Wonder's follow-up to his brilliant album Innervisions. A short while after the release of that album, Stevie got into a car crash, and fell into a coma. He would awaken, and Fulfillingness' First Finale was his take on what he had experienced and learned.
As a result, the lyrics on Fulfillingness' First Finale are much more personal than previous Wonder outings. At various points throughout the album, Wonder acknowledges his search for "something", in the abstract sense. "Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away" deals with Wonder finding his faith. "Smile Please," a song in the vein of "You And I" and "Don't You Worry Bout A Thing", is yet another of Stevie's optimistic lyrics. In his words, "don't delay from smiling…There's brighter days ahead…" It has been this characteristic of Wonder's work that was a big factor in his popularity. In the 70's, there was enough bad news, people were only too eager to hear some good things.
However, Fulfillingness' First Finale is not all about soul-searching and finding happiness. Throughout his career, Wonder's political views have been expressed in many a song and the trend continues here. "You Haven't Done Nothin'" is an absolutely acidic rebuke of President Nixon. In the course of listening to this song I almost felt sorry for Tricky Dick. Almost.
I challenge any of you readers out there to find an artist who used synthesizers as well and to as great an effect as Stevie Wonder. The man practically single-handedly gave the instrument legitimacy. On Fulfillingness' First Finale, Wonder uses them just as well as on previous albums. "You Haven't Done Nothin'" features quite possibly his best synthesizer intro ever. It's almost as if you are listening to the musical equivalent of the sound of falling rain. Just a brilliant opening. There is a whimsical feeling when Stevie starts off "Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away," in a perfect marriage of lyric and music. "Too Shy To Say" soars higher and higher, matching Wonder's falsetto. The album's other big single, "Boogie on Reggae Woman," is a success because Wonder captures that "reggae groove", with a very catchy synth beat. And despite the fact his records are thirty years old, they don't feel outdated. Why?
It wasn't just the synthesizers that Wonder used to make his albums work; he was a damn good vocalist, one of the greatest. The mood and tone of his songs are perfectly represented in the vocals. Wonder can go from the smoothest, silkiest vocals to straight out rock. His array of vocal impersonations complements the fact. We know exactly what he's feeling. There is no doubt Wonder is singing from the heart on songs like "Too Shy To Say," or "Please Don't Go." On the same note, his disgust on "You Haven't Done Nothin'," is blatantly obvious. Wonder wore his emotions on his sleeves, and that has made his music timeless. The technology may change, but the feelings don't.
Fulfillingness' First Finale tends to be forgotten when mentioned as one of the great Stevie Wonder albums. It's "the album between Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life." While those are great records notwithstanding, Fulfillingness' First Finale deserves better. Stevie Wonder did not turn out one mediocre album in the 70's, and he certainly disappoint here.