Stevie Wonder

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Lenny Kaye

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Stevie Wonder has become the brightest light of all [Motown's prodigies], his work since Music of My Mind consistently innovative and lustily creative, propelled by a confidence and artistic maturity that only comes through the dogged patience and understanding of day-to-day experience.

Innervisions is Wonder's 14th album, his third since fully becoming his own man, and it shows off his talents to luminous advantage…. Indeed, Innervisions may be as close to a concept album as Stevie will ever produce. Its tracks are coupled by a hovering mist of subdued faith, of a belief in the essential rightness of things; and if he seeks to offer no real solutions (should he?), neither does he allow for any easy outs, any quick glossings of the surface.

The themes are simple. Life is tough but life is beautiful; find your own way, but make sure you're not simply playing the fool and kidding yourself. He gently chides the escapism of drugs ("Too High"), as well as the "Misstra Know-It-All"s who wear their ignorance like a shield. He saves his blessings for those who maintain a reverie of the world as it should be, as it inevitably is, the "Higher Ground" which must never be lost sight of or denied. It's interesting to note here that in the song Wonder directs at the "Jesus Children of America" (adding transcendental meditators and junkies into the spiritual mix), he merely asks them not to "tell lies." Later, in "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing": "Everybody needs a change / A chance to check out the new / But you're the only one to see / The changes you take yourself through."

In this sense—and it's to his credit that Wonder's preoccupations with such siddharthic messages never slide into the blandly predictable—Stevie functions a bit like Curtis May-field, aware of his role as a musical and spiritual leader, in that order, but hardly to the point of shrillness. His concern with the real world is all-encompassing, a fact which his blindness has apparently complemented rather than denied. "I'm not one who makes believe," he sings in "Visions"; "I know that leaves are green." Even when his characters run into crippling obstacles—the young Mississippi boy who's spent his life "Living for the City," only to arrive at Port Authority and be unjustly thrown in the slammer—he never loses that basic optimism, the ability to once again rise and return to the fray….

An eye for an eye. On Innervisions. Stevie Wonder proves again that he is one of the vital forces in contemporary music.

Lenny Kaye, "Wonder's Own Third: Luminous Talent," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers. Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 144, September 27, 1973, p. 98.

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