A Time To Love - Press Release
Stevie Wonder's Midlife Classic
19 October 2005
Stevie Wonder's long-promised CD "A Time to Love" finally arrived
yesterday, just in Stevie Wonder-time -- meaning when he's ready to let
it go. Wonder signed to Motown 43 years ago, when he was 12, and a new
deal was sealed when the artist turned 21, but that "delivered" part has
always been the trickiest aspect of the relationship.
In the '60s, the boy Wonder cranked out two or three albums a year
on the Motown assembly line. And in the '70s, Wonder took control of his
production and became one of that decade's towering artists via five
landmark albums recorded between 1972 and 1976. "Music of My Mind,"
"Talking Book," "Innervisions," "Fulfillingness' First Finale" and
"Songs in the Key of Life" -- all recorded when Wonder was in his
mid-twenties! -- rank with the time-compressed advances and achievements
of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Brian Wilson in the '60s. Like those
artists, Wonder has lived in the shadow of his long-ago masterpieces
ever since, suffering the unfairest of comparisons -- with himself.
Wonder's last significant album was 1980's "Hotter Than July." Over
the next 25 years, there were only three others -- and none in the past
decade (excluding best-ofs, live and boxed sets, and a pair of
soundtracks). Wonder is a notorious perfectionist willing to tinker
endlessly with his creations. 1995's "Conversation Peace" took eight
years to complete, and the payoff wasn't what it should have been,
artistically or commercially. In the '60s and '70s, he ruled the singles
charts, but his last appearance in pop's top 20 was in 1987.
So where does "A Time to Love" fit in? Where does Stevie Wonder fit
in at 55?
Wonder's not beholden to current trends, so the new album sounds
like classic Stevie: airy romantic ballads and funky, socially conscious
anthems; gorgeous, serpentine melodies delivered in a voice that's
somewhat deeper and huskier but has lost none of its elegance, elation
or elasticity. He's still championing positivity (in fact, the name of a
new song), justice and brotherhood, as well as the redemptive power of
love, a word that appears in the titles of six of the album's 15 tracks.
Does "A Time to Love" stack up to what Wonder was doing 30 years
ago? Of course not, and it's probably harsh to expect it to. Still,
pretty good Wonder is better than most of the work offered by his
numerous musical progeny, and the comforting familiarity of it all is
The album opens with "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved," an earnest,
rhythmically taut call to action and involvement, built from Doug E.
Fresh's human beatbox sounds and traditional percussion over ominous
strings and a choir directed by Kirk Franklin. Wonder duets with gospel
singer Kim Burrell in a litany of scenarios that invoke social actions
and reactions, moral opportunities and failures before coming back to a
basic challenge: "Can you say your name/or would you rather stay
More than 70 minutes later, "A Time to Love" closes with the
nine-minute title track, whose lyrics were written with India.Arie. It's
a sincere polemic in which Wonder notes, "At this point in history we
have a choice to make: to either walk the path of love or be crippled by
"Shelter in the Rain," written to honor Wonder's ex-wife Syreeta
Wright and his brother Larry Hardaway (both of whom died in recent
years), has become an inspirational anthem, and fundraiser, for
Hurricane Katrina victims and will have a longer life at memorial
tributes, much as Wonder's love songs have provided the soundtrack for
countless weddings. There are several new candidates for that job on the
album, most notably "Sweetest Somebody I Know," a languid bossa nova
powered by Oscar Castro-Nueves's supple acoustic guitar and Wonder's
ecstatic vocal and harmonica (though his 4-year-old son Kailand's
bursting into the recording session shouting "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, okay,
that's enough!" feels a bit forced -- perhaps Motown sent him).
"Moon Blue," written with actress Akosua Busia, feels like a pop
jazz standard in the making. Other sunshiny missives include "True
Love," "From the Bottom of My Heart" and "Can't Imagine Love Without
You," though all three slip into the trite sentimentality of "I Just
Called to Say I Love You."
Wonder's oldest daughter, Aisha Morris, first heard as a cooing and
crying baby on 1976's "Isn't She Lovely" -- she was, of course, that
song's inspiration -- shares two songs with her father. "How Will I
Know" is simplicity itself, an exploration of one of love's most basic
questions via entwined voices, Wonder's acoustic piano underscored by
brushes and vibes. The sunny, spirited "Positivity" rides an "I Want You
Back"-style guitar loop to become one of Wonder's typically ebullient
anthems, in which he insists, "I'm not saying that life can't be rough,
but you'll never find me giving up."
On the funk side, there's "Please Don't Hurt My Baby," a caustic
infidelity fable in which a man and woman "blinded by desire" are racked
with guilt and terrified of exposure, with recriminations couched in
competing his-and-hers choruses; the slinky "Tell Your Heart I Love
You," featuring addictive harmonica and Bonnie Raitt's slide guitar; and
supremely catchy "So What the Fuss," built on a sly guitar vamp played
by Prince, which castigates those who talk the talk but don't walk the
walk in regard to social progress. As always, Stevie Wonder's gonna keep
on tryin' till we reach the highest ground..