Of all R&B artists, I have been familiar with Stevie Wonder about as long as any, because Wonder was acceptable to the Oldies station I grew up with to a much greater extent than most of his contemporaries. (There was Motown of course – just the hits! – and a few Ray Charles hits, but nothing else from the ’70s beyond Stevie Wonder.)
Having heard much about him as an adult, and had some of his records recommended to me, I have tried to give him a shot. I can’t say I liked Where I’m Coming From all that much; I wrote a fairly dismissive review while attempting to commend him from breaking away from his handlers. I tried another record (a double album) that I couldn’t muster the energy to listen to three times. It was somehow super self-indulgent and yet not weird enough at the same time. I think that’s generally my problem with the guy: he somehow indulges his artsy impulses but makes shitty pop music with those impulses.
But, as much as I can like Stevie Wonder, I like this. It’s brief enough that the self-indulgence isn’t overwhelming and it’s funky enough that it (mostly) doesn’t feel like he is corrupting funk to sell records. (There are exceptions. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is fucking pablum.)
Of particular note, I think, is “Maybe Your Baby,” which feels like the genesis of Prince’s career in one song. I’d honestly never thought of a connection between the two artists before, both of whom like to perform nearly every instrument – but it sure sounds like Prince heard this song and thought “Imagine what I can do.” So that’s something.
And “Superstition,” though horribly overplayed, is a pretty great song.
These synthesizer programmers-cum-producers seem to have mostly rescued Wonder from his inclination to make everything soft and safe, though this is still less funky and more commercial than you might expect something that sounds as arty as it does.
Anyway, this is much better than the other ones I’ve heard. I’m still not a fan, but I can see the acclaim with this one.