Stevie Wonder Innervisions – music doesn’t get a whole shitload better than this folks!*
It really doesn’t. Having overcome Berry Gordy’s musical conservatism at the end of the 60’s Tamla Motown reluctantly embraced the swirling winds of social and musical change, allowing several of their artists to truly give wing to their vision. Stevie Wonder flew further, faster and far-outer than anyone else and in a mere 28 months cut four incredible LPs: Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale**. Of all the quadrilumverate Innervisions is by far the best album^.
From the freaky deaky cover art, by Efram Wolff, on in Innervisions is like nothing else I’ve ever heard. Warm and wonky in equal measure, ‘Too High’ rises into view like a very fragrant cloud of smoke. Anchored by Wonder’s fabulous Moog bass tones and Fender Rhodes playing I love the way the utterly off the wall vocals dictate the tempo of the song, rather than vice versa. It carries a firm anti drug message, but to my warped ears sounds instead like a great advert for them …
… ‘Visions’, segueing seamlessly^^ on from the opener. It is a really beautiful song too, musically and lyrically delicate – a yearning for the heaven we should have created on Earth. The addition of Malcolm Cecil, Dean Parks and David ‘T’ Walker (on bass, acoustic and electric guitars) really paying dividends on this number. I also really like the way Wonder riffs on visions and seeing throughout, the overall effect being far more potent than poignant.
Tonight my favourite Stevie Wonder song ever is ‘Living For The City’, source of one of my all-time ever favourite Public Enemy samples. Wonder’s vocals are amazing here; strong and righteous in equal amounts. Good job that we have reduced the song’s tale of hardscrabble endurance and systemic racism to nothing but a historic curio in the intervening 46 years, eh readers? the entry into New York, along with street sounds and vocal impressions is quite genuinely one of my favourite few minutes of music ever. How can something so jaunty be simultaneously so damned heavy?
Side closer ‘Golden Lady’ is possibly the most conventional offering on show here, tipping slightly towards Marvin Gaye’s turf. I am won over, yet again by the sheer warmth of the sound, a kick ass tune and some glorious instrumental flourishes; Stevie only plays Moog bass, Fender Rhodes piano and drums (whilst singing) on this one – lazy bones!
Then as though everything that preceded it was just a warm up, Innervisions hits us with ‘Higher Ground’ to open side 2. That’s just not playing fair! I may just have changed tonight’s favourite ever Stevie Wonder song too. You simply can’t beat a bit of spiritual questing set to a stomping Hohner clavinet, can you? The song took on whole new meanings for Wonder after his car accident three days post Innervisions release, when he was almost terminally logged out.
‘Jesus Chidren Of America’ was a far better song than I remember it ever being before. Wonder coming on like a cold turkeying John Lennon at first before all manner of sustained funkiness breaks out all over the place. I used to skip the gorgeous, swelling lushness of ‘All In Love Is Fair’^*, but I am a moron. True story. It’s a gorgeous swoonsome 50’s throwback, the vocals are stunning too.
Mrs 1537’s favourite (a very hard-won accolade that!) is the funky, funny, in-your-face Latino beat ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ which sounds like nothing else in the whole wide world. The incandescent inventiveness spilling out of the grooves here just lights up the sky like fireworks. The sweetly cutting political polemic of ‘He’s Misstra Know-It-All’ being the icing on the cake.
The term ‘genius’ gets banded around far too easily but as one myself, I whole-heartedly recognise similar levels of artistry in Mr Wonder. The scope and breadth of his invention and execution has only been equalled a handful of times before or since in popular music*** and at times Innervisions is simply breath-taking.
What I love, truly love, about Stevie Wonder is how warm his music is in tone and in concept; this is music designed to be as inclusive as possible, no dry exercise in skill for the cognoscenti, the melodies are all-conquering and all-welcoming. There’s a real inner beauty in that.
The man saw everything.
*dear record company moguls, my integrity is very easily bought, please get in touch to negotiate putting this quote on a sticker on the shrink wrap of the LP.
**a sequence that beats anyone else I can think of, Sabbath and the Stones excepted.
^I say that definitively, despite never having heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale. I have decided to adopt a confident ignorance in all matters.
^^although maybe not as smoothly as I did there, Stevie.
^*lazy boy only plays piano, Fender Rhodes piano and drums whilst singing on this one.
***peak Beatles, Prince (briefly), Faster Pussycat.