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A Time To Love - Press Release

The Scotsman

Wonder Takes much Too Long To Say He Loves You
Fiona Shepherd
Friday October 14

IT is telling that, in the UK at any rate, there appears to be considerably more excitement surrounding the forthcoming Kate Bush album (three weeks and counting) than there is anticipation of this new Stevie Wonder offering, although the gestation periods have been similar.

Where the elusive Bush really has kept her fans waiting and guessing, Wonder has been a much more visible presence in the ten years since his last studio album Conversation Peace, with a collaboration here, and a campaigning public appearance there. Everyone knew he'd get round to it eventually.

Realistically, it is too much to expect he could come back with an Innervisions (as close to flawless as albums get). Over the last 20-plus years, he has done a highly questionable job of living up to his reputation as one of the greatest musical innovators of the pop age by producing a succession of slick, schmaltzy releases and a couple of candidates for Room 101. But is it a vain hope that he never assails us with another I Just Called to Say I Love You? Breathe easy, brothers and sisters, that barrel goes unscraped here.

Even after a decade in the works, the perfectionist in him could not resist spending much of this year tweaking A Time to Love - and delaying its release date several times. The result is a reasonable distillation of Stevie style through the ages, but not so arresting that you don't notice that it is far too long. Most of the album is so familiar it sounds like a pastiche - and, lord knows, we have Jamiroquai for that. So What the Fuss, the socially conscious comeback single featuring Prince and En Vogue on backing vocals, is as funky as you would expect from the cast list. It could almost - almost - be an outtake from Talking Book.

Another funky number, Please Don't Hurt My Baby, has its roots in Wonder's golden era. At a recent listening party in LA, Wonder revealed he had been working on it since his late teens. In an album almost exclusively about love in its many forms, it is the only track to explore the darker side of relationships.

Wonder's voice still sounds fresh and nimble, but, inevitably, it is not always allied to the most virile of melodies or arrangements. However, there are some creatively hopeful moments before the sugar rot sets in. The album opens with the tribal soul of If Your Love Cannot be Moved - the only track which sounds like it belongs in the 21st century.

Then the lovefest begins in earnest. Sweetest Somebody I Know is not as saccharine as it could be, while Can't Imagine Love Without You is soppy but endearing. My Love is on Fire describes the same euphoria as expressed more eloquently by On the Street Where You Live. Tell Your Heart I Love You, featuring Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, and with the childlike exaggeration that "you make me feel like a trillion bucks", is much hipper, leaner and bluesier.

Over the last ten years, Wonder could have gone overboard with the guest list. Instead, he keeps his guest artists close to home. His daughter, Aisha Morris, who inspired Isn't She Lovely, duets with her father on a couple of tracks, Positivity and the cocktail jazz number, How Will I Know.

Moon Blue is another slinky, jazzy love song which smooches on way too long, much like several other songs. From the Bottom of My Heart is one of the worst offenders. Can you guess what Stevie wants to communicate from the bottom of his heart? That's right, listeners, that he loves you.

The standard of lyrics on A Time to Love fluctuates considerably. Shelter in the Rain, a slick gospel track released in the US to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims, mechanically pulls on a nation's heartstrings, but offers nothing that hasn't been said a trillion times better by Bridge Over Troubled Water.

In contrast, the closing title track - which features another celebrity chum, Sir Paul McCartney, on guitar - has a certain challenging yet simple eloquence in lines such as "not enough money for the young, the old and the poor/but for war there is always more". Again, Wonder has said it better himself in the past, but the message is unflinching. In explaining his album title, Wonder has declared "of all the needs that we have right now, more than anything we need a time to love". He's got that right.