Review Summary: Stevie in full flight; the magnificent songwriting, ferocity, tremendous singing and instrumental abilities make this album a must-own
By 1973 Stevie Wonder was at the height of his powers. Having just released Talking Book
with the mega-hit Superstition, he was already a commercial and artistic juggernaut. This album takes a somewhat different route than its predecessor by leaning more on powerful funk/soul numbers instead of ballads and the results are astonishing.
First of all, there is Living For The City
here, which is one of the most incredible rockers Stevie ever put to tape; it features a steady mid tempo groove punctuated by intense synthesizers and keyboards as well as a Moog bass that increases the drive of the song a whole lot. And that marvelous synth riff at the end of each verse is simply marvelous; it's like a culmination, a release of the tension that takes place on the verses.
There is also Higher Ground
, another unbelievably compelling rocker that may sound as a projection of previous year's Superstition, but it certainly isn't inferior to said song. You might know it already from Red Hot Chili Pepper's cover, which is one fine take, but the original is something else entirely. The rhythm is essentially a shuffle, but the pounding keyboards combined with Stevie's immaculate singing give the song the desired ferocity that the Pepper's rendition eventually lacked, despite the group's honest effort.
You want more upbeat funk? Well, that's why Jesus Children Of America
is here! The pattern is more similar to Living For The City
than Higher Ground
but the funk overtones are clearer here than on any other track of the record. The wah-wah guitars that lurk in the background complement the keyboard arrangement perfectly. The opening Too High
is amazing, too. Not as groove-heavy as the rest upbeat songs, it goes for a more complex experience, as far as rhythm is concerned, and succeeds. And the doo-doo-doo's that burst through the speakers once in a while are wonderful.
Now, Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing
is not exactly a pure funk-rocker. It features a more Latin-influenced rhythm section and the vocal melody transmits a more celebratory vibe to the listener, as opposed to the aggressive mental state the other rockers address. It is astonishing, as far as I'm concerned. Golden Lady
is a ballad, sure, but again, a powerful one at that. Gorgeous and up there with the best of Stevie, it establishes a terrific melody that goes on and on, and then the tone gets higher and higher, resulting in a cathartic feeling at the end. Stevie is probably one of the few musicians that can take the overused cliche of changing the key of the song a lot of times and make it work perfectly.
But it is not the only ballad that's tear-jerking and cathartic. Visions
is equally wonderful, with eerie acoustic guitar fingerpicking and a haunting keyboard arrangement. All In Love Is Fair
is another stunning ballad, with fantastic piano lines and a slow-burn rhythm section that melts your heart right away. And Stevie is incredible in his singing, as always. He's Misstra Know-It-All
on the other hand, is the album closer and succeeds in being gentler than the rest of the tracks. It's not a ballad, not a rocker, just an anthemic, pleasant tune that ends the record on a relaxed note.
In conclusion, I believe the album serves as a fantastic introduction to Stevie Wonder's career. It's certainly misses a lot of the more inner, sensitive touch that dominates Talking Book
or Fullfillingness' First Finale
, but succeeds in establishing Stevie as a fantastic funk artist that can easily go beyond balladeering. It's not as encyclopedic as Songs In The Key Of Life
but music-wise it's damn close. And that's enough.