Innervisions (Motown 157 580)
Stevie Wonder's mid-seventies work is pretty much universally considered (along with that of Marvin Gaye) the apotheosis of pop-oriented R&B. After all, he won three Grammies® for his albums in a four year period, right?
It is therefore easy to blindly overrate these works, or, alternately, to turn away from them as being "too obvious." Indeed, Talking Book hasn't aged particularly well, and Songs in the Key of Life has its share of filler. And Fulfillingness' First Finale, thought of as "just not as good," is probably the most purely enjoyable of the bunch.
So fuck the critics. Let's think about what it is.
Innervisions, yes, is adored by plenty of fatboy white rock critics, but in this case I'm inclined to agree. It's jam-packed with great songs, it flows beautifully, and Wonder's singing and playing are at their absolute best. When "Higher Ground" is one of the weaker songs, you know you've got a great album on your hands.
"Living for the City" is here, a stunning epic, with amazing drumming by Stevie and a gorgeous, gospel-tinged chorus. Yes, it's marred slightly by the dramatic middle sequence, which is both pretentious and over-simplified, but it does give an excuse to return to some of Wonder's best ever throaty bellowing.
Also present are the sinuous opening track "Too High" and the very pleasing "Golden Lady," but most glorious are the last three tracks, which seamlessly blend into each other. "All in Love is Fair" is possibly his best ballad ever, astonishingly sung and just gorgeous. This leads into the kind of irreverent and fun samba of "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" (marked by wonderful babbling by Stevie over the opening instrumentation), and finally the simply astounding "He's Misstra Know-it-All," which should have been a huge single. A contemptuous lyric over an instantly catchy piano vamp: soul's "You Never Give Me Your Money."
The underacknowledged "album tracks," "Visions" and "Jesus Children of America," are introspective, political, personal, and most of all, beautiful. They're not the ones you walk away from the record humming, but they burrow deep into your body like one of them microscopic search vehicles from Bradbury's Fantastic Voyage or IntellVision's "Microsurgeon," permeating your corpuscles and finally returning to the surface one day, invisibly and imperceptibly changing you forever.
One of the best albums ever, by anyone. Yeah, it's Stevie's whitest album. But sometimes it's okay to enjoy what the Man tells you to enjoy, especially when the thing is sooooooo fucking good.
Review by HIP & DEF