A Time To Love - Press Release
Wonder Takes much Too Long To Say He Loves You
Friday October 14
IT is telling that, in the UK at any rate, there appears to be
considerably more excitement surrounding the forthcoming Kate Bush album
(three weeks and counting) than there is anticipation of this new Stevie
Wonder offering, although the gestation periods have been similar.
Where the elusive Bush really has kept her fans waiting and
guessing, Wonder has been a much more visible presence in the ten years
since his last studio album Conversation Peace, with a collaboration
here, and a campaigning public appearance there. Everyone knew he'd get
round to it eventually.
Realistically, it is too much to expect he could come back with an
Innervisions (as close to flawless as albums get). Over the last 20-plus
years, he has done a highly questionable job of living up to his
reputation as one of the greatest musical innovators of the pop age by
producing a succession of slick, schmaltzy releases and a couple of
candidates for Room 101. But is it a vain hope that he never assails us
with another I Just Called to Say I Love You? Breathe easy, brothers and
sisters, that barrel goes unscraped here.
Even after a decade in the works, the perfectionist in him could not
resist spending much of this year tweaking A Time to Love - and delaying
its release date several times. The result is a reasonable distillation
of Stevie style through the ages, but not so arresting that you don't
notice that it is far too long. Most of the album is so familiar it
sounds like a pastiche - and, lord knows, we have Jamiroquai for that.
So What the Fuss, the socially conscious comeback single featuring
Prince and En Vogue on backing vocals, is as funky as you would expect
from the cast list. It could almost - almost - be an outtake from
Another funky number, Please Don't Hurt My Baby, has its roots in
Wonder's golden era. At a recent listening party in LA, Wonder revealed
he had been working on it since his late teens. In an album almost
exclusively about love in its many forms, it is the only track to
explore the darker side of relationships.
Wonder's voice still sounds fresh and nimble, but, inevitably, it is
not always allied to the most virile of melodies or arrangements.
However, there are some creatively hopeful moments before the sugar rot
sets in. The album opens with the tribal soul of If Your Love Cannot be
Moved - the only track which sounds like it belongs in the 21st century.
Then the lovefest begins in earnest. Sweetest Somebody I Know is not
as saccharine as it could be, while Can't Imagine Love Without You is
soppy but endearing. My Love is on Fire describes the same euphoria as
expressed more eloquently by On the Street Where You Live. Tell Your
Heart I Love You, featuring Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, and with the
childlike exaggeration that "you make me feel like a trillion bucks", is
much hipper, leaner and bluesier.
Over the last ten years, Wonder could have gone overboard with the
guest list. Instead, he keeps his guest artists close to home. His
daughter, Aisha Morris, who inspired Isn't She Lovely, duets with her
father on a couple of tracks, Positivity and the cocktail jazz number,
How Will I Know.
Moon Blue is another slinky, jazzy love song which smooches on way
too long, much like several other songs. From the Bottom of My Heart is
one of the worst offenders. Can you guess what Stevie wants to
communicate from the bottom of his heart? That's right, listeners, that
he loves you.
The standard of lyrics on A Time to Love fluctuates considerably.
Shelter in the Rain, a slick gospel track released in the US to raise
money for Hurricane Katrina victims, mechanically pulls on a nation's
heartstrings, but offers nothing that hasn't been said a trillion times
better by Bridge Over Troubled Water.
In contrast, the closing title track - which features another
celebrity chum, Sir Paul McCartney, on guitar - has a certain
challenging yet simple eloquence in lines such as "not enough money for
the young, the old and the poor/but for war there is always more".
Again, Wonder has said it better himself in the past, but the message is
unflinching. In explaining his album title, Wonder has declared "of all
the needs that we have right now, more than anything we need a time to
love". He's got that right.