Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions was 40 years old on Saturday.
Stevie Wonder’s classic period, from Music of My Mind in 1972 to the seminal Songs in the Key of Life in 1976, is defining not only to his career but music as a whole. To produce five albums in four years in such astounding quality is something most artists can only dream of in their whole careers, never mind four years. But Stevie’s a genius; that can’t be denied or questioned. Whether he’s experimenting with musical technology, writing for the greats or taking a back seat and drumming for others, there’s a reason for his stage surname.
In between that classic cluster was Innervisions, a masterpiece addressing a number of issues and motifs and all the while keeping it funky as hell in the process. The album covered every aesthetic base possible and found ways to create new ones, from the phaser funk driven Too High to open proceedings to the powerfully emotive Living For The City leading into my favourite Stevie song of all time Golden Lady. That may well sound like a unique choice considering the breadth of his career but it holds something dear to me. I’m a romantic (as my girlfriend can probably attest to profusely), so a well executed ballad will hit me deep in the pit of my soul. Golden Lady does that in abundance with such vivid lyricism which takes you on a journey both sonically (as the key changes as the song closes) and intellectually.
But let’s not forget the other wonderful ballads on Innervisions – Visions sweeps you through five minutes with a lovely guitar melody and those signature Stevie vocals, full of love and soul. Then All In Love Is Fair, which takes that vocal showcase and pushes it even further. But where I think Innervisions excels the most is in the synergy between socially provocative lyrics and the use of technology. By the early 70s, before punk had reared it’s rebellious head, artists like Bob Dylan had become responsible for the words of the under appreciated by speaking on social issues. But here was a black man with a bunch of synthesizers, impeccable voice and genius musicianship ready to do the same, in contrast to Dylan’s folksy guitar. Perhaps this might have seemed contradictory – discussing problems on the street from a cushy studio but I don’t see it that way.