September 28, 2005
Stevie Wonder "A Time To Love" Album Review
Believe it or not, Stevie Wonder released a new album this week and nobody noticed. The actual "A Time to Love" CD doesn't hit stores until October 18th, but Motown quietly gave it a "digital release" on itunes last tuesday, presumably as a ploy to beat the Oct 1st deadline for Grammy eligibility. I got an advance copy right before my radio show on Saturday, and will now be able to tell my grandchildren about the time I world-premiered a Stevie Wonder album. (and on the same night that I interviewed the Skullsnaps!)
I've given it a few more listens since then, and I must say this is not a bad album at all, much better than I expected. It's also good enough that, like "Musicology", it will be overhyped by many fans and critics as a "return to form" that is "on par with his classics." Do not listen to these people. This is strictly a Phase 3 Stevie album.
Stevie's career has had 3 phases:
Phase 3 is similar to Godfather 3. Far, faaarrrrr short of the majesty that came before, but perfectly enjoyable if you block 1 and 2 from your mind, and judge it on its own terms.
So don't get gassed. Keep your expectations realistic and approach it strictly as Phase 3 material, and you should me more than satisfied. I'd rank it way ahead of Conversation Peace and Jungle Fever (potentially his best Phase 3 album, had it not contracted a deadly strain of the New Jack Swing virus). Not quite on par with "In Square Circle" or "Characters," but close.
Lately on his uptempo songs Stevie likes to spit big bursts of syllables in this RZAesque offbeat-onbeat flow, which I'm not always feeling, but on the better tracks here I can work with it. The best of these is the opener "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved", on which Doug E Fresh drops a beat that sounds a lot like "Freaks", and then Stevie builds a groove that sounds a little like "Another Star". This one keeps growing on me every time I play it.
The first half of the album stays around this level, with at least three other tracks that compete with his Phase 3 hits (like say, "You Will Know"). "How Will I Know" is a sweet little jazz-lite duet with his daughter Aisha (the baby heard on "Isn't She Lovely"), whom I mistook for Alicia Keys. "Please Don't Hurt My Baby" is funkier than I ever expect Stevland to get these days, except for that one cheesy bridge thing.
Honestly I kinda run out of steam during the second half, and the album loses me. But maybe this has more to do with my lack of album-length stamina after so much mp3-shuffling? Then again, I doubt I would ever run out of steam halfway through Talking Book, or Innvervisions, or Talking Book and Innervisions played 5 times played back-to-back.
But of course this is breaking my own rules. Like I said, you don't want to think about that Phase 2 stuff right now. Just approach this as the album after "Conversation Peace", and leave it at that. You should come away very happy.