A Time To Love - Press Release
Love, Stevie. With new album, Wonder shares his innermost feelings
Thursday October 13
Stevie Wonder just called to say he loves you. But will anyone be
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
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
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
soulmusic.com 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
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."