Monday, July 1, 2013

"Songs in the Key of Life" by Stevie Wonder (1976)

Editorial Note: The “bonus record” was not spun for this entry.
Fun Fact #1: I know he’s blind, but the cover art for this LP looks like a picture taken during a colonoscopy.
Fun Fact #2: In what has to be the goofiest beef in the history of music, Coolio got mad at Weird Al for ripping off one of his songs that Coolio himself ripped off from “Songs in the Key of Life.”  For the record, Pastime Paradise is phenomenally better than Gangsta’s Paradise.  And so is Amish Paradise.
“Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand.”
Key Tracks: Have a Talk with God and Sir Duke
Rating: Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)
Kicks Off With: Soulful vocal oohs.
Sounds Like: The Gospel according to Stevie – what’s important to him is 100% in the forefront.  Sir Duke plays like a horn-soaked mission statement.
“Smokin’ cigarettes and writin’ something nasty on the wall.”
Key Tracks: I Wish and Pastime Paradise
Rating: Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)
Kicks Off With: A thumpin’ funky bass line
Sounds Like: The ghetto according to Stevie – and also romance.  It’s really hard to reconcile those two concepts.  He paints a raggedly vivid picture of the first and a hackneyed, on-a-pedestal version of the second.
“You’ve brought some joy inside my tears.”
Key Track: Isn’t She Lovely
Rating: Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)
Kicks Off With: A baby crying
Sounds Like: A continued contradiction, but with a harmonica – finally!  A harmonica in Stevie Wonder’s hands is a declaration of pure joy.  Too bad he doesn’t keep that up here…
“It fills you up without a bite and quenches every thirst.”
Key Track: As
Rating: Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)
Sounds Like: A message of hope.  There’s nothing more I could say about that.
So, is it a double album?  Yes.  “Songs in the Key of Life” is an archetypal double album in the classic “White Album” sense.  It jumps across a dozen genres, twisting on the whim of an artist who can’t be pigeonholed. 
Up next, Jimmy Buffett in country mode is a lot of fun, especially when it’s “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean.”

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