Friday, 8 June 2018
Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)
Released August 1973
Recorded at The Record Plant, Los Angeles
This is probably the highlight of Stevie Wonder's remarkable career. As on many of his seventies albums, the multi-instrumentalist played many of the instruments on the tracks. Various percussionists and the experienced bassists Willie Weeks were used, but it is largely Wonder's work, and a remarkable achievement it is too. Almost a totally solo album. In common with many of the Motown/other black artists of the time, black consciousness and various social issues are dealt with - drugs, racism, inequality, and a corrupt presidency as well as some sensitive love songs.
"Too High" is a funky, bassy "message" track concerning drug abuse, while "Visions" is a wistful, laid-back and beautiful rumination upon the future, featuring Utopian visions in the lyrics of a better future, somewhere, if we could only make real what we imagine in our mind. Some lovely guitar at the end of it.
Three tracks in, we get the mighty "Living For The City" with its funky, insistent, rumbling opening organ riff against a throbbing bass and assisted by some swirling synth riffs and, of course, Wonder's gritty vocal telling of an innocent black man's unjust descent into urban crime and eventual incarceration. The spoken "prison guard" scene in the middle was a shocking portrayal of institutionalised racism. It is a depressing tale, with no hope at the end of it whatsoever. A vitriolic condemnation of contemporary times and, indeed of much of today's society. It hits you right between the years. As a musical spectacle it is superb. Wonder's vocal at the end is growling and desperate, a narrator who has reached rock bottom.
Just as "Living For The City" fades out in a chorus of "no, no - no, no" the soft, soulful Stevie is back in the house, lifting our spirits again with the lovely tones of "Golden Lady", with its razor sharp percussion, melodic synths and dreamy typical laid-back Wonder vocal.
"Higher Ground" is a magnificent slice of genuine funk - all clavinet licks, great drum sound and a catchy down and dirty vocal and a big hit too. What an intro it has too. "Jesus Children Of America" sounds like a typical evangelistic song but it betrays a cynicism directed at the "holy roller" preacher who is simply concerned with his own showy performance as opposed to any genuine holiness. It has a mesmeric, funky backing too. Wah-wah guitar and funky backing vocals. "All In Love Is Fair" is a gentle, charming love song, of the kind Stevie does so well, almost in his sleep. Relaxing and peaceful. "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" starts with a bit of cod Spanish and is a funked up, Latin, hustle-ish number that raises the energy levels of the album again just in time for the barnstorming closer, the marvellous "He's Misstra Know It All", apparently directed against then President, Richard Nixon. Melodic, with a totally addictive piano hook and a gruff, soulful vocal culminating in the "look out he's comin' " shriek. Great stuff. The sentiments could be equally, if not more so, applied to the present incumbent of the said office. It is probably my favourite Stevie Wonder track of all.
Definitely his finest album, even against the double album claims of "Songs In The Key Of Life".