I grew up in a time when Stevie Wonder was pumping out plenty of generic, middle of the road, safe music for mums. Including monumentally shitty duets with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Then I had that day that I assume everyone younger than 40 has, when they hear Superstition for the first time and realise that there once was a time when Stevie Wonder was a badass, making what has to be one of the coolest songs in the history of music and coolness. That one song is more than enough to make me long past due to listen to some classic Wonder stuff, with Talking Book.
You Are the Sunshine of My Life is as cheesy as its title would suggest, but it kind of steers into the cheesy skid and comes out OK. I’m OK with cheese as long as an artist isn’t trying to dress it up as something more. The opposite is the harpsichord funk of Maybe Your Baby. This is the kind of thing that Pharrell Williams could sample today, and everyone would think he was a modern genius. It’s slower and less in your face than Superstitious, but oozing with attitude.
The syrup drenched piano crooning of You and I is a perfect example of the generic, middle of the road, safe music for mums stuff that defined so much of Stevie Wonder’s music when I was a kid. But hearing it here, in the context of Talking Book, I don’t hate it. Coming straight after the funked up Maybe Your Baby, it sounds like an artist showing his broad range.
The harpsichord makes a welcome return on Tuesday Heartbreak. This time joined by a 70s-tatsic wah guitar, sexy backup singers and sexier (possibly artificial) sax, it’s a slow jam to get down to with your best lady and a bottle of cognac. Then there’s the way before its time You’ve Got it Bad Girl. The only problem is, it’s way before its time in the worst possible way. Pushing its then-modern instruments way past their breaking point, it sounds like terrible synth pop from a decade later.
Then it’s time for the song that made me realise all those years ago that Stevie Wonder was more than just generic, middle of the road, safe music for mums, Superstitious. If there was ever an official list created of the greatest pop and rock songs of all time, and this fell anywhere in the top 10, I don’t think I’d be able to argue with that.
What was a nice little novelty on You and I is boring on Blame it on the Sun and Lookin’ for Another Pure Love. Especially after the experimentation on Big Brother that precedes it. Sure, the end result of Big Brother might be an atonal mess, but at least it attempts something new and different. Blame it On the Sun and Pure Love are just so anonymous and by the numbers, they barely registers as songs.
Before I listened to Talking Book, I was scared it might be a collection of Stevie Wonder at his syrupy worst, while I hoped it would be Stevie Wonder at his funky best. What I got, was kind of a combo of both. If I had heard this album in 1972, his decline into 80s bull shittery wouldn’t have comes as a real surprise. But the good parts are good enough that I wouldn’t have seen the future bull shit as inevitable. I still would have held up hope for more of his funky best.