PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Stevie Wonder: A Time to Love

Justin Cober-Lake

If you care about being cool, walk away now. We won't miss you.


Stevie Wonder

A Time to Love

Label: Motown
US Release Date: 2005-10-18
UK Release Date: 2005-10-17
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

On my second listen to A Time to Love, I finally figured out what it is that makes Stevie Wonder's music so successful (if you thought you were going to get a standard introduction here, look elsewhere; you probably don't need me to tell you how Wonder started off as a prodigy, turned in a string of sensational albums in the '70s, did some AM radio in the '80s and hasn't released a new album in 10 years): he's completely honest. Maybe I'm naive and falling for a character, but it strikes me emphatically that Stevie presents one of the most direct visions of any artist out there, and it's that element of his music that both challenges and rewards his listeners.

Go to nearly any period of Stevie's career, and you'll find tracks tempting you (sometimes successfully) to call them schmaltz. Hits like "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" could easily be turned into pure cheese, but Wonder makes them work. With "For Once in My Life", he turns in the most effective version of a trite, often-covered song. Wonder's secret is implicit in his performance: he believes what he sings. He doesn't perform for the song -- he sings to express himself. So much so that even writing can degenerate into borderline schmaltz.

If you want to know who that self is, you're given a clue on the new album's opener, "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved". Doug E. Fresh and Kim Burrell help out, but Wonder brings an on-the-one funk and an attitude that announces that this one is a Stevie album (not a "return to form" or anything like that -- just Stevie busting out). The song's urgency is driven by its lyrics, its vocal performance, and its steady percussion. Whether it's a call to political activism or existential fulfillment, "If Your Love" prods your heart as quickly as gets your head tapping.

That adamant delivery of both desire and proclamation allows the next track "Sweetest Somebody I Know" to develop as a gorgeous late-life relationship ode played over a smooth groove. The initial intensity of the album keeps this track from drifting off; "If Your Love" calls you to live, and "Sweetest Somebody" uses that call as a frame for its easy romantic offering. This track comes at the end of a journey, and if old relationships don't seem passionate, it's only because you're missing the context in which they live.

Wonder works those kinds of shifts throughout A Time to Love. At the album's finest moments, the tensions and juxtapositions develop a bigger vision. Stevie might be arguing something as simple as "The world is rough so let's love", but he's doing it better than anyone else, and, heck, we all need to be reminded of that at times. The snapshots within this bigger picture make for some pointed moments, such as the pleading of adulterers in "Please Don't Hurt My Baby".

At the album's weakest moments, Wonder's strong funk only makes his croons sound silly. "Passionate Raindrops" suffers from a bad title, cloying music, and troubling personification. "Shelter in the Rain" sounds too much like the post-Katrina number it is; as a too-direct appeal in an obvious moment of crisis, it's too transparent to be fully effective.

However, Wonder's delivery never stumbles. His earnestness carries even the least successful of his numbers (except "Raindrops" and probably "Positivity") by being so convincing. With his emotions exposed, surrounded but not aided by his music's ornamentation, Wonder can create directs links to meaning and feeling in his world (or at least as direct as we could get). Wonder's music, whether artistically well-done, almost always comes across as something vital.

Even in our current era of delicious post-irony, heartfelt statements tend to be derided as aesthetically base or emotionally puerile. Wonder doesn't care. He's going to express what's on his mind and his heart, and his going to give it directly to you to decide what to do with it. If you reject it, it doesn't mean you're too resistant or aloof for your own good. It's just something you might want to keep in mind.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.