Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Talking Book" by Stevie Wonder (1972)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl

Filed between: Edgar Winter and Frankie Yankovic

"Keep me in a daydream.  Keep me going strong."

Key Track:

Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
You and I (We Can Conquer the World), You've Got It Bad Girl, Lookin' for Another Pure Love

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Above Average (2.5/4 stars)

There are two very distinct Stevie Wonders present on "Talking Book."  In fact, they seem to be the two Stevie Wonders who appear on every LP he's done since "Signed Sealed & Delivered."  But it's really obvious here.

One is the make-your-hips-swing-low funkmaster organist who puts your booty in a stranglehold and won't let go.  Whenever somebody asks me what funk sounds like, I play Superstition for them.  Even now, when it comes on during those lame beer commercials, I know I'll be bobbing my head for the next thirty seconds.  That Stevie Wonder rules.

The other Stevie Wonder?  Not so much.  It's the schmaltzy, schlocky pop balladeer who cuts songs that are instantaneously dated the moment they're made; It's the Stevie Wonder who writes lyrics like "where is my spirit?  I'm nowhere near it;" it's the Stevie Wonder who uses the bossa nova beat on the drum machine.

That's right, I'm talking about You Are the Sunshine of My Life.  Okay, we better slow down a bit.  Before you get all hot and bothered about me dissing that song, remind yourself of the nostalgia filter.  And then, go back and relisten to it - try to do so without thinking of a velvet airport lounge circa 1975.  Pay attention to the lyrics - note how they sound like a high school freshman's love poetry.  I'm not saying the song is without merit, I'm just saying it gets kind of... ugh.

And I will concede that there is sometimes a third Stevie Wonder - the jazz homage guy whose song quality varies wildly.

In "High Fidelity," Jack Black's character asks the following question specifically about Stevie Wonder: "Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins?"  Personally, I don't think that's a fair question. 
I think Stevie Wonder was consistent throughout his career when it came to... ugh.  We just kept the nostalgia filter turned on and he stopped doing the funky stuff.

So, is it an album?  No.  Let's just leave it at that.

Up next, Heart's self-titled juggernaut of a comeback.

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