Stevie Wonder

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Vince Aletti

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It's only when I stop dancing and singing all around the room that it occurs to me Stevie Wonder's Music of My Mind may not be the great album of the year. It's certainly the best thing to come out of Motown since Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On and perhaps even more impressive as a personal achievement, considering Wonder not only wrote, arranged and produced the entire album but played every instrument…. Everything seems to fall quite comfortably within Steve's grasp and the effect is both satisfying and exciting. It's satisfying if you're willing to overlook a few flaws, some of which have cropped up in his other recent work. Most would fall under the heading Self-Indulgence: a tendency towards gimmickry that often eludes his fine sense of control.

[Wonder] seems to have come into his own as a songwriter. His lyrics are generally simple, playful, unpretentious; even some of the more self-conscious lines in "Girl Blue" work nicely. Yet the words have little inspiration when compared with the music, which is constantly inventive within a rather simple structure. Wonder never overloads his songs musically; instead, his weakness seems to be with the vocal tracks. (p. 48)

Vince Aletti, in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1972; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 107, April 27, 1972.

Stevie can no longer be considered as simply a Motown artist or a soul man but must be recognised for what he is: one of the most inventive and complete musicians around.

People are already talking about ["Music of My Mind"] as Motown's "Sgt. Pepper." I'm not sure that labels like that really help, but I know what they mean. Like "Pepper," there is a wholeness about this album which is completely satisfying: each track is a real song, beautifully constructed, instantly memorable and self-contained. Yet the tracks hang together and complement each other perfectly. They are linked not by any laborious theme or concept but by the underlying mood and the homogeneity of the playing….

If you can stand to have the "Sgt Pepper" comparison pushed a bit further, then I would say that Stevie's album, too, is remarkable because it owes very little, directly, to anything that has gone before—yet at the same time it is a beautiful synthesis of everything that has gone before. Several tracks, for example, have a subtle Latin flavour which reflects Stevie's recent interest in South American music, while "Sweet Little Girl" with its gruff vocals and harmonica is as funky as anything the "old" Stevie would have done. He's aware of the New Music, but he hasn't forgotten his roots.

Stevie warned us what to expect with his last album, "Where I'm Coming From" …, but everything here is so much more sharply-focussed, particularly the lyrics … which make their point without the kind of preaching which makes the Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" album less than perfect.

From the opening "Love Having You Around" …, to the closing, climactic and very moving "Evil" this is a very "up" album. And the final touch which sets this apart from many other fine albums is Stevie's lightness of touch, his sense of fun and flashes of ad-lib, self-mocking humour on songs like "Sweet Little Girl." Throughout the impression is of a real musician in a natural groove, playing his ass off and having fun. And the wonder of it is that the best is probably yet to come.

"Stevie's Sgt. Pepper," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), May 13, 1972, p. 24.

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Vince Aletti


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