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A Time To Love - Press Release

The Guardian

Stevie Wonder - Abbey Road Studios, London
Dorian Lynskey
Thursday 10 Nov. 2005

Stevie Wonder a Abbey Road Studios - Atime To Love
Wearing his genius lightly ... Stevie Wonder at Abbey Road. Photograph: PA

When it comes to music legends, absence is proven to make the heart grow fonder. So this one-off performance for Radio 2 by the erstwhile Steveland Judkins is a red-letter event. A Time To Love is his first album in 10 years, and lukewarm reviews are irrelevant. Assorted journalists, music industry grandees and cast members of The Office are here to politely applaud the new material while silently praying for the hits.

Wonder is in the curious position of peaking creatively at the age of 26 with the astonishing double album Songs in the Key of Life. The four-year, four-album run preceding it is unmatched in soul music. He pushed the sonic envelope with electronic duo TONTO's Expanding Head Band, mounted a potent critique of Nixon and Ford's America, and wrote several of pop's finest love songs. If his influence has been sometimes malign, he can hardly be blamed. Alicia Keys has built a career on misunderstanding him, mistranslating his lambent humanism into smug sanctimony, and his vocal genius into mere showboating. He's certainly self-aware enough to heavily weight his set towards his heyday, skipping over the past 25 years. For someone who hasn't toured in so long, he's showing no signs of rust. Locomotive funk tracks such as Higher Ground and Superstition are as flawless as his ballads. His voice, which hasn't exactly suffered from overuse in the past decade, is in almost implausibly fine form. You And I, which he dedicates to his first wife Syreeta, who died this year, climaxes in an ecstasy of melisma.

He, too, wears his genius lightly. Being such a casual over-achiever is central to his charm. Sat behind his keyboard, he's an impish figure, teasing the crowds with the intro to All I Do, and adopting a baffling British accent for Sir Duke. He's particularly excited by the aphrodisiac qualities of Ribbon in the Sky: "This is for all the lovers in the house. If you can't get a little sumthin'-sumthin', you can put this on and you can get sumthin'-sumthin'. And if you still can't, then you've got sumthin'-sumthin' wrong."

As the original one-hour time limit becomes a distant memory, and you wonder if it will take a tranquilliser dart to get him off the stage, he becomes increasingly merry. New single Positivity sees him duet with his daughter Ayesha Morris, who was last heard as a baby frolicking in the bath 30 years ago on Isn't She Lovely. He sings that song while her body language seems to say, "Oh Dad!, you're so embarrassing!"

He then introduces Motown president Sylvia Rhone, who is so incontinent with praise that, after several gushing minutes, Wonder has to dispatch her with a cheerful yet firm "Get out of here". But by the end of more than two hours of some of the greatest songs ever recorded, you know how she feels. This was sumthin'-sumthin' special.