Stevie Wonder - A Time 2 Love (2005)

Stevie Wonder
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For the past two decades Stevie Wonder has suffered.  Not from his race nor from his blindness, but from the unrealistic expectations created by his early solo work, all of which stands as among the best music of its era.  So the curse of being perhaps the singularly most talented artist of his generation is that an album like 1986's In Square Circle, which would have been career album for most artists, was dismissed by musical elite as "forgettable."  Granted, Wonder spent most of the 80s and 90s playing in - but not often expanding - the field that he tilled in the 70s, but his skill as a songwriter always remained intact and compelling.

For the past two decades Stevie Wonder has suffered.  Not from his race nor from his blindness, but from the unrealistic expectations created by his early solo work, all of which stands as among the best music of its era.  So the curse of being perhaps the singularly most talented artist of his generation is that an album like 1986's In Square Circle, which would have been career album for most artists, was dismissed by musical elite as "forgettable."  Granted, Wonder spent most of the 80s and 90s playing in - but not often expanding - the field that he tilled in the 70s, but his skill as a songwriter always remained intact and compelling.

So, here we are, on the eve of the release of A Time 2 Love, Wonder's first studio disc in a decade, and the musical world will again be divided, with one side consisting of those who unrealistically expect Wonder to again redefine popular music, and those who accept that there is much to enjoy in Wonder's brilliantly understated writing and his always bright voice even when he is not paving new ground.  I'm in the latter camp and can find joy just hearing Wonder again.  But those feelings are helped by the fact that this really is his crispest, most interesting album since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

Traces of Wonder's past glories can be heard throughout A Time 2 Love, but the album is in no way derivative.  Rather, his legacy is so pervasive and broad that it is tough not to find an element of a "Boogie On Reggae Woman" ("Tell Your Heart I Love You") or an "Overjoyed" ("Passionate Raindrops") on the album.  And while the radio has played the upbeat "So What's the Fuss" and "From the Bottom of My Heart" to death, they are far from the album's high points.  As is the case with Wonder's latter albums, there are a slew of great slow songs, from the smoky "Moon Blue" to "Can't Imagine Love Without You" to the beautiful "True Love."  But the album's pinnacle is the beat-heavy duet with Kim Burrell, "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved," a magnificent blend of Gospel, African beats and funky Soul. 

Lyrically, the disc is typically ethereal, but with strong social commentary on issues of passivity and hypocrisy ("If Your Love Cannot Be Moved"), infidelity ("Please Don't Hurt My Baby") and a society of hate ("A Time 2 Love").  Wonder will no doubt receive criticism for some for his pop tendencies on the disc (particularly the intentionally upbeat "Positivity" and the big ballad "Shelter In the Rain,"), but his performance on each is sufficiently strong that they work.

There's no doubt that I wanted to like A Time 2 Love, but thankfully Wonder made it easy.  The fact is that, at age 55, Stevie Wonder has again shown that he is not only ahead of his aging rock peers, he is really without peer.  Highly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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