STEVIE WONDER — Innervisions (review)

STEVIE WONDER — Innervisions album cover Album · 1973 · RnB Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Chicapah
Stevie caused quite a stir in this corner of the cosmos with his groundbreaking “Music of My Mind” but it left a lot of us Wondering if it indicated that he was about to go off on some kind of eclectic tangent that no one would be able to understand. The solid “Talking Book” album put an end to our speculations definitively. In it Stevie demonstrated that he could blend state-of-the-art synthesizer technology with his likeable R&B, jazz/rock and pop aptitudes to produce music that could effortlessly crossover into all of those categories without any resistance. By doing that he not only continued to open up vast, unspoiled continents of possibilities for all singer/songwriters of that era but he killed and cast away forevermore the confining “Little Stevie Wonder” persona that no longer applied. He was going to not only be allowed but encouraged to keep on doing it his way because with that LP spawning two #1 singles he’d proven to the industry moguls that the public was hungry to be privy to what he heard in his head and eager for more. When “Innervisions” was released in August of 1973 (was that a great year or WHAT?) I and all his fans expected to be knocked out by it but we didn’t anticipate that he would give us the sun, moon and stars on a vinyl platter. As an artist Wonder was growing and evolving faster than any of us believed possible and we’d have to run to keep up. Not only did the music on this disc compel us to sing and dance with him, it also made us think over, contemplate and reconsider our opinions about race relations, love concerns and our spiritual condition all in the span of nine new songs. What we were blessed with was a masterpiece and soon Stevie became America’s equivalent to the pied piper, leading us out of darkness into what we hoped would be a brighter future.

Opening with the jazz-influenced “Too High,” Wonder the one-man funk machine establishes a firm foundation that never drifts from the tune’s central groove for a moment. All the sounds he generates except the harmonica, drums and vocals are derived from his bank of synthesizers and keyboards yet he avoids allowing the track to become plastic or lazy. Believe me, that feat is easier said than done. The lyrics don’t mince words when it comes to the self-absorbed nature of the drug scene. “She’s the girl in her life/but her world’s a superficial paradise/she had a chance to make it big/more than once or twice/but no dice,” he sings. Realizing that he no longer had to always confine himself to himself, Stevie put together a tight combo with Malcom Cecil on bass, Dean Parks on acoustic and David “T” Walker on electric guitar for the jazzy ballad “Visions” and together they turn in a delicate, sensuous performance. In it he asks us “Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?/where hate’s a dream and love forever stands?/or is this a vision in my mind?” It’s a gorgeous song from any and every angle. “Living for the City” is the tune that blew everyone completely away the first time they heard it and it still amazes me that it’s not the result of a group effort. Considering that he had to lay it down drawing only from the arrangement locked in his brain, the drum track is extraordinary and the unbridled passion in his voice convincingly sells every word. The song’s dramatic interlude shows that he was willing to do anything to get his point across even if he had to break every existing rule to do it. “I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow/and that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow/this place is cruel, no where could be much colder/if we don’t change, the world will soon be over,” he warns. The grandiose ending is transcendent and, in listening once again to the whole tune carefully, I continue to discover clever nuances I never noticed before.

“Golden Lady” is another song that he graciously invited other musicians to join him in presenting. In this case it’s Clarence Bell on organ, Ralph Hammer on acoustic guitar and Larry “Nastyee” Latimer on congas and they do a splendid job of helping Wonder to roll out a jazzy R&B groove for this unabashed love tune. The multiple key modulations in the final segment make it sound like the track is getting larger and larger with every turn. “Higher Ground” has an unstoppable momentum that even a five-piece band would be hard-pressed to match but it’s all Stevie. “Teachers, keep on teachin’/preachers, keep on preachin’/world keep on turnin’/’cause it won’t be too long,” he cries. This cut rocks hard, no doubt about it. On “Jesus Children of America” Wonder’s subdued tone gives the song an intimacy that strikes deep but the track is not without some stirring dynamics provided by a myriad of vocal harmonies and inflections rising up in the background. In it he tells Christians that “you’d better tell/your story fast/and if you lie/it will come to pass.” (Still a sage piece of advice)

His incredible “All in Love is Fair” follows, one of the greatest heartbreak tunes of all time. The honest emotion in his vocal cuts through all the self-pitying crap that most songs of this ilk drown in as he goes straight to the soul of the matter. The beautiful piano music, aided by Scott Edwards on bass, is simple by design as perfection sometimes is. His pained, rueful line of “I should have never left your side” gets me every time. The bouncy “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” owns a fabulous Latin rhythm that’ll have you swaying across the living room floor shamelessly. Yusef Roahman and Sheila Wilkerson add spicy percussion, helping to make this tune’s joyous spirit as infectious as the flu while its cool, jazzy characteristics give it a classy sheen. Last (but certainly not least) is “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” in which the rhythm section of Stevie and bassist Willie Weeks drive this number sure and steady from start to finish. Wonder is to be commended for holding back his angst for as long as he does but at the halfway point he releases his pent up frustration and lets his despicable target have it full on. “Take my word/please beware/of a man who/just don’t give a care” he shouts. The cut’s long fadeout only serves to make you crave more and more of Stevie’s magic.

Few records deserve the Grammy award for Album of the Year more than “Innervisions” did. Besides parading one great song after another from top to bottom most of the tracks abut without a pause as if they were part of a unified, intricately connected suite. This kind of inspired workmanship and dedication to one’s craft is rarely found in the realm of popular music but Wonder isn’t just anybody. He will go down in history as one of the most influential and innovative artists this earth has ever known and, while most icons are lucky to have just one of their projects be considered a masterpiece, “Innervisions” is only one of several that Stevie created. It is spectacular.
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Matt wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Great Review Rollie for a wonderful album.......its my fave Stevie.

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