“Innervisions” by Stevie Wonder is my favorite album of all time. That might be a bit of a brash statement to make from the outset considering how many great albums have been produced and that this work would not be considered even the best Stevie Wonder has put out.
When talking about Stevie Wonder albums it is often “Songs In The Key Of Life” that will be spoken about as Wonder’s masterpiece. Regardless of that claim it is “Innervisions” which I put forward as Wonder’s most complete and rounded piece of work.
Singer and multi instrumentalist Wonder has full control this album. Despite the impairment of blindness he plays the piano, drums, keyboards and bass. He is effectively a one man band on “Innervisions”.
Whilst the artist being blind shouldn’t be something we focus on when listening the fact is we have to take it into consideration because we are listening to a man who is telling us about his visions from his own dark world. The fact that he can see as clear (if not clearer) than any normal sighted person is quite mind blowing to me. How can he vividly describe such wonder (no pun intended) and know what is beautiful and what is not without having his sight?
But this album isn’t just about listening to a blind man comment on his world view – this is musically a stunning piece of work encompassing many styles of music from funk, soul, Latin, R&B and rock.
The album is only 9 tracks long. It’s how I generally like my albums – short but packed full of quality. There isn’t a song I would skip.
It begins with “Too High“. The bass and the drums are the essence of the track with Wonder telling a cautionary tale about drug taking in America.
“She’s the girl in her life
But her world’s a superficial paradise
She had a chance to make it big more than once or twice
But no dice
She wasn’t very nice”
“Visions” is quite an extraordinary song. There seems no way Wonder could describe in such intimate detail how he views the world because of his blindness. I hate to continue to bring that up but listen to this song and it really does astound me how intricate a songwriter he can be.
“I’m not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around
I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending”
I find “Visions” a beautiful song. This song is one which Wonder is trying to imagine a world where we are at ease with ourselves and not needed substances or other vices to escape.
“Living For The City” is a little bit special. Actually, scrap that – its massively special. Wonder’s vocal is so very impressive in this song about injustice and racism within America. It talks about social inequality, poverty and the struggle to progress in the world as a black man.
“Her brother’s smart he’s got more sense than many
His patience’s long but soon he won’t have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people”
After 4:30 the song takes a break to display the story of the black man who has gone to New York city and within moments of his arrival ends up being approached by a drug dealer which leads to the Police arriving and arresting the man who had no part to play in any crime. He is sentence to 10 years in which you hear a jailer telling him to “get in the cell ni**er*.
When listening to this you of course feel outrage for what has happened and Wonder delivers the remainder of the song in such an angry voice you can’t help but feel the anger with him. It would seem the next verse is the man walking around New York City presumably years later:
“His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his love walking the streets of New York City
He’s almost dead from breathing on air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there’s no solution “
After this hard hitting track we get “Golden Lady”. This starts with a simple piano rift and then the bass kicks it. It’s a love song of the most stunning proportion.
“A touch of rain and sunshine made the flower grow
Into a lovely smile that’s blooming
And it’s so clear to me that you’re my dream come true
There is no way that I’ll be losing”
You can’t really go wrong with lyrics like that.
Following the softness of “Golden Lady” we go back to the hard hitting political comment in the form of “Higher Ground”.
Wonder plays every instrument on this track. He is in a pissed off mood as he laments those in power and tries to rally the people.
“Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long“
“Jesus Children Of America” (another utterly magnificent song) is Wonder being critical of so called Christians for only following certain rules set out by their religion. He seems to be willing them to observe their actions in society a lot more closely then they have been doing.
“All in love is fair” is a sublime ballad. It’s tone is a little haunting and you can really feel the emotion in the voice of Wonder and he sings these lyrics:
“All is fair in love
Love’s a crazy game
Two people vow to stay
In love as one they say”
The most fun song on the album comes next. “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing” is a Latin infused soul stomper. It’s a positive song about taking life as it comes and not being bogged down by trivial concerns. It’s such a fresh song and quite remarkable that it is over 40 years old.
Keeping with the Spanish flavour, Wonder sings partly in Spanish the words “Todo ‘stá bien chévere” which mean “Everything is really cool”.
To finish we have “He’s Misstra Know It All”. This is a mellow piano ballad about a con artist.
“He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra Know-It-All”
Wonder stays on one level of emotion through the first half of the song but then essentially ‘takes it to church’ as the rest of the song is mainly him chanting his lyrics like a preacher.
We’ve probably all met someone like the song describes:
“If we had less of him
Don’t you know we’d have a better land
He’s Misstra Know-It-All “
The song begins fading out over a minute before the track ends. The singing and music can still be faintly heard and I like to think that somewhere in some universe “He’s Misstra Know It All” is still playing on.
So many artists have albums that are deemed as a “masterpiece” but the definition of the word was surely meant for Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”. This is stupendous.