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A Time To Love - Press Release


Love, Stevie. With new album, Wonder shares his innermost feelings
Fred Shuster
Thursday October 13

Stevie Wonder just called to say he loves you. But will anyone be listening?

Wonder, who has produced music of enduring beauty during more than 40 years on the scene, now finds himself at a crossroads. On Tuesday, he'll release his first new studio record in 10 years at a time when the pop world has changed dramatically, and his audience may have largely evaporated.

Although he denies it, Wonder is competing against his own artistic peaks, now some three decades old. Today, the Motown imprint that's been his home since "Fingertips (Pt. 2)" topped the nation's pop and r&b charts in 1963 is struggling, banking on Wonder to bring in a hit with the forthcoming "A Time to Love."

But the world is different today. Wonder, who last had a Top 10 single 20 years ago, has had his high profile eclipsed by the more-timely likes of Usher, Alicia Keys and Kanye West. His previous four albums since 1995 have included a live effort and three greatest-hits sets. The 1995 record, "Conversation Peace," then his first non-soundtrack in eight years, had relatively low sales for the superstar. Meanwhile, Motown, now owned by the Universal

Music Group, is not setting the world on fire with a stable led by Brian McKnight, India.Arie, Kem and Q-Tip.

"It's been a long, long time since a new Stevie Wonder record was a major event," said British music journalist David Nathan, who first met Wonder in 1965 and has interviewed him at least a half-dozen times. "You have to feed your fan base, and he just doesn't put out albums very frequently. I think of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and James Taylor as his contemporaries, and they release more work than he does. It's tough when you have a legacy like Stevie's. He just does what he does - and the problem is, audience tastes change."

Wonder's musical heights, "Music of My Mind, "Talking Book" and "Innervisions," all released in the early '70s, addressed turbulent times with an ear to the street and a sense of sonic adventure. Songs from the era - "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Living for the City," "Higher Ground," "You Haven't Done Nothin'," "Boogie on Reggae Woman," "I Wish" and "Sir Duke" - are firmly established in pop's pantheon.

Winner of 19 Grammys and the record academy's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, with more than 70 million records sold, and a place in music's various halls of fame, Wonder is in the position of trying to market a new set of glossily produced love songs at the exact time a far tougher track from 1972, "Superstition," is playing on the nation's airwaves in a Gap commercial.

Does he ever listen to "Innervisions" or the other '70s classics these days for inspiration or any reason?

"Not for pleasure," he said, "but to try and remember the emotions I was feeling at the time we made them."

Wonder says his new album's decade-long delay had everything to do with creative considerations and nothing to do with the ebbs and flows of pop tastes.

"I was never afraid to put this out," he said. "That was never the issue - ever. I wanted it to sound contemporary but still be me. It was just a matter of getting it right."

In conversation and in the album's lyrics, Wonder, a new father at 55, repeats the word "love" constantly, perhaps not realizing that, to many of today's younger CD-buyers, who are steeped in harder-edged sentiments, love is a five-letter word spelled m-o-n-e-y.

Discussing his work, Wonder is adamant about his message: "It's something that has come from life experiences. The joy, the pains, the moments of sorrow, the moments of happiness. ... When creating music, you have to live life - be inspired by life - to create experiences that are worth sharing with the world. 'A Time to Love' is saying that there is a need, now, more than ever, to bring love back into the forefront."

For its part, Motown is hoping Wonder's moments can be spun into gold. The sightless singer-keyboardist born Steveland Morris in Saginaw, Mich., has packed "A Time to Love" with cameos from, among others, Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, En Vogue, India.Arie, Kim Burrell and Prince. The disc was made available as a digital download Sept. 27, just in time to meet the deadline for Grammy Awards eligibility.

"Stevie always has impeccable timing," said Motown president Sylvia Rhone. "The world is hungering more than ever right now for the kind of message only he can deliver. Nobody can illuminate our greatest hopes, soothe our deepest fears, and put us on the musical high road like Stevie Wonder."

Along with the album release, Rhone's label is making 500 Wonder tracks available for download from iTunes. And Wonder has agreed to do an unusually large amount of publicity to hype the product and target next year's trophy fests.

"There's been a big time lag in his career, so a Grammy campaign is an industry thing that tells people, 'Don't forget about Stevie,' because after so many years, people do forget," said Nathan, whose Web site is an archive of r&b-related materials. "It keeps the awareness that he's still making music. I don't know at this point who Stevie Wonder's audience is."

Unlike some contemporaries, Wonder has resisted the temptation to add rap and hip-hop flavors to his new record, instead opting for a precise sound that sometimes hints at earlier work. He also refrains from addressing any topic but love, a word repeated so often it loses all meaning, although a new single, "Shelter in the Rain," has been cited after the fact as an ode of healing for victims and survivors of the recent hurricanes. The single is being provided to gospel and Christian stations, not ordinarily a launching pad for a Wonder track.

"Things we could never have imagined have happened," Wonder said. "It's sickening to know that no matter how much we've grown, we've grown very little."

But, he said, "The time is right again for this kind of conversation. We're talking about all forms of love. Love you have for a significant other. Love for a spouse, for your brother or sister, for humankind. The love of your faith. Whatever your passion is, this project was made with every level of love in mind."