A Time To Love - Press Release
All Music Guide
A Time To Love
During times of extreme political and social change, Stevie Wonder's
voice and songwriting served as cultural and spiritual guide posts to
many a listener, often lending insight and a barometer with which to
measure the ways of the world. But that was largely during the golden
phase of his career, generally regarded as being the late '60s through
1980's Hotter Than July. His work in the mid '80s through the '90s was
marginal in comparison, only hinting at glimpses of former brilliance,
sugar-coated by over-polished production and radio-friendly content.
So with a decade passing since his last full-length, 1995's
Conversation Piece, people waited with baited breath for a sign of his
return... and wondered which Wonder would show up: Would it be the
socially conscious genius who wrote anthems for a generation, or the R&B
crooner that dominated quiet storm radio? Thankfully, it's a blend of
both. For every forward-moving song with a theme, there's a gentle
moment of tranquility to cancel it out. Many of these songs, save for
their warm and polished digital production values, could have easily
found a home in Talking Book, Music of My Mind, or any of the other
albums for which Wonder will forever be praised. In an age when the
majority of R&B is about money, drugs, infidelity or getting it on,
Wonder's lyrics (especially during the love songs) recall the simplicity
and innocence of early Motown without sounding trite. It's definitely a
refreshing change of pace and hopefully something one or two aspiring
producers and songwriters are paying attention to.
These are love songs of maturity that are carefully crafted, which
would more or less explain why it took nearly a decade to get them
finalized, with many of them feeling like mature revisitations of the
classics. (If "Happier Than the Morning Sun" and "Little Girl Blue" were
a pair of teenagers in love, "Sweetest Somebody I Know" is that couple
30 years later at their class reunion.) The jazzy "How Will I Know,"
featuring Wonder's daughter on lead vocals (the same Aisha sung about
nearly 30 years ago on "Isn't She Lovely"), is the gateway to the
album's second half, a five-song cycle of ballads and quiet storm jams
that will appease fans of Wonder's later work. Especially notable is "My
Love Is on Fire," featuring a beautiful guest appearance from jazz
flautist Hubert Laws, which exemplifies the other thing that makes A
Time to Love the comeback album of the year: the never-ending list of
celebrity cameo appearances so extensive it would make Carlos Santana
and Clive Davis blush with modesty. Guest appearances from rap pioneer
Doug E. Fresh, Bonnie Raitt, Sir Paul McCartney, Kim Burrell, Prince,
Kirk Franklin and India.Arie just scratch the surface of who contributed
to this record. It's one Michael Jackson and one Lionel Richie cameo
short from being a USA for Africa reunion.
But while each artist lends their own style to the mix, the songs
definitely remain 100-percent Wonder thanks to his distinctive singing
and arrangements. The album begins its landing with "So What the Fuss,"
a chunky block of funk with a distorted bass line. It served as the lead
single and was met with surprisingly little fanfare, especially since
it's one of Wonder's most straight-ahead slices of funk in some time.
And the album's title track serves as a fitting conclusion to the album,
spreading Wonder's message of love and peace as strongly and
convincingly as any other song he's ever done.
On the whole, A Time to Love is the record Wonder fans have been
waiting for, and the wait has more than paid off. Through exploration
and balance, A Time to Love finds the two halves of Wonder's adult
career finally coming to home to roost in peaceful harmony with one
another, and it's one of the finest records he has done in decades.