Key To Music Grades

A - You will never be whole without it
B - Highly recommended
C - Flawed, but still pretty good
D - It's your money, not mine
F - Why couldn't this have been burned in Fahrenheit 451?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)

Like my Sinatra or Mingus reviews, or anything that is not classic rock -- what I would call my fringe genres -- I believe I lack the necessary vocabulary to describe Stevie. So I will attempt to superficially substitute genre jargon for piffling literary nuance -- is that kosher?

Innervisions is indisputably Stevie's best album. Many will cite the somewhat inconsistent Talking Book, the post car-crash Fulfillingness' First Finale or the mammoth Songs In The Key Of Life (which is really a less focused version of Innervisions) as their personal favorite, but Innervisions, I believe, is the crowning achievement of Stevie's 70s output. Lyrically, the album treats love ballads, social injustice and drugs with as much equality as the man himself would ask of the world, which is quite interesting considering the album's title -- that what we are to hear is the expression of a man physically blind to the world but who possesses such an acute inner grasp of it. Sonically, the album features the best of Stevie's abundantly colorful musical textures and tone colors: the universally omnipresent "Higher Ground"; the beautiful piano-driven "All In Love Is Fair"; the sad yet optimistic acoustic "Visions"; or the Richard Nixon indicting "He's Misstra Know It All."

Perhaps the most intense of songs on the album, "Living For The City," is possibly Stevie Wonder's best song lyrically, musically and vocally as well. I say vocally because the song is comprised of two parts and has a brief interlude where we hear police arresting a black man for no reason. In the first part, Stevie's wonderful voice optimistically sings of the man's poor but proud upbringing. After the interlude where the man is arrested, Stevie's vocal phrasings become gruff and grating, inherently wearied from the harsh life with the only hint of optimism being that of possible change. Sure, there's nothing wrong with ZZ Top having written about whorehouses at the time or Elton John on how Saturday night was good for a smackdown, but that kind of material is fairly trivial when compared to the issues Stevie was confronting, especially considering that he's not overbearing with them as opposed to, let's say, Rage Against The Machine. Other great tracks: "Jesus Children Of America," "Too High," "Golden Lady" and "Don't You Worry About A Thing." A-


Malcolm said...

It would be hard to argue the greatness of "Living For the City". Any chance of you doing a review of "Songs In the Key of Life"?

The Mad Hatter said...


Yes, it will probably be the next one I do for him. Not sure when, but sooner rather than later, of course.