Stevie Wonder does nothing for me. This record, considered either the best or second best of his career, has not changed that. That makes it kind of hard for me to review it in any reasonable way.
As a songwriter, I can’t say that he’s bad with melody. He obviously writes some pretty catchy songs. I’d probably like more of them if there were other things about those songs I liked. But I’ve never loved his lyrics and I find his topical lyrics in particular to be not up to par, despite all the praise he gets. For example, is “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” really that scathing an indictment of Richard Nixon? I’m not sure if I could have told you it was about Nixon if I hadn’t read it was about Nixon. (On the other hand, some of these lyrics are really good. The problem for me is that it’s always someof his lyrics are okay or good.)
But the real reason I don’t like Stevie Wonder is his arrangements. The man is a clearly an incredibly talented musician; this record in particular shows off his ridiculous ability to play just about anything he wants to, and play it well enough that you think there’s a whole band here. But he’s so polished – I blame growing up in Motown – and everything is too damn clean and professional for me. I like my soul around the edges; Wonder does not. (He also gets tons of credit for incorporating synthesizers into his music, and he certainly was a pioneer within soul music, but lots of other people did what he was doing at the time in the greater music context, and I don’t really get why it’s such a big deal.)
Is this a better set of songs than some of his records? Yes. It it a good enough set of songs to overcome the polish? Not for me.
7/10 if I’m trying to be fair about it