Thursday, October 2, 2014

23 Innervisions (1973) Stevie Wonder




1. Too High
2. Visions
3. Living for the City
4. Golden Lady
5. Higher Ground
6. Jesus Children of America
7. All in Love Is Fair
8. Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing
9. He's Misstra Know It All

As we creep slowly up the countdown towards the number one spot, the number of new albums I'm encountering is getting less and less. Most of the records I've encountered lately are either old friends from my own CD collection (Who's Next, Led Zeppelin, Let it Bleed) or albums so famous that I knew most of the tracks already (Born to Run, Tapestry). Innervisions was an odd encounter for me: an album that was almost entirely new.

I'd heard Higher Ground before of course but only as a cover version. I'm not the world's biggest Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan but their version of Higher Ground is fantastic and something I've always enjoyed. But that was my only familiar point in the world of Innervisions. The rest of it was all new.

As I've recently had the chance to experience again and again, I quite like Wonder when he speeds up but don't think much of him when he slows down. When he chooses to bring the pace down a notch and move into ballad territory he loses me but when he puts the pedal to the floor and goes the full funk I think he's awesome. I'm clearly alone in this. I've had a look at the guy's catalogue and discovered there's a compilation of just his love ballads (which I will never voluntarily choose to hear) but no compilation of his fast and funky material which I would choose to listen to often. I can't be the only one surely?

So when I put on Innervisions I was expecting the same reaction I'd had to his previous work: a sense of excitement at the funk and disappointment at the shmaltz. Instead I was just kind of... bored. 

Wonder plays pretty much the entire of Innervisions himself, much of it on a synthesizer. He lays down the drum tracks and then overdubs himself on bass and keyboards before finally creating a final track he can lay his vocals on top of. It's definitely something that requires a huge talent and not many people can effectively do. It also makes the music feel kind of sterile. Nobody pushed Wonder while he was making Innervisions, nobody suddenly played an unexpected note or launched into an experiment. The drummer didn't make a mistake that made Wonder sit up and take notice and the bass player didn't play a funky little riff he'd been experimenting with while they were between takes. It was all Wonder using technology to get what was in his head onto tape in the most accurate way possible. All which explains why I think it's kind of boring. It sounds so safe and pre-arranged and sterile. It just doesn't move me in the way that I think it could. It doesn't even repel me in the way that Wonder can. It just leaves me bored.

I'm at a loss to know why this is so high in the list compared to his other work. Higher Ground isn't nearly as good as Superstition and it doesn't boast any of his greatest ballads. It's also got an incredibly annoying spoken word intro (Don't you worry about a thing) which gets more annoying every time you hear it. 

Innervisions was a huge influence at the time and helped to popularise the synthesizer in R&B and Soul music, which lets be honest is a fairly big black mark against it. It might be Wonder's most consistent and complete album and perhaps my problem is that I don't want consistency in a Stevie Wonder album. I'm happy to endure a Shmaltzy ballad if I know a paint-peeling funkfest is just around the corner. Innervisions has no corners, they've all be buffed out by the recording process.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I love funky "Sir Duke" stevie. This album was so highly billed, but it was a real let down for me. I wanted more funk, and did not find it."

-Yeah I'm with you

So does this album reach Higher Ground or fall well short? Let me know below




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