When reflecting on Stevie Wonder’s ‘classic period’ it is never easy to find words that haven’t already been uttered about the sheer brilliance of the run of albums that made Stevie Wonder the most important figure in R&B music of all time.
My personal favourite album of all time is “Innervisions” which came before “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”. This album takes on a more sombre tone compared to that masterpiece and is an album often overlooked as “Songs In The Key Of Life” came afterwards and dwarfed every other Wonder album due to it’s ambition and track list that reads like a greatest hits album.
But ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ has some absolute gems within it’s 42 minute run time and is a project well worth investigating if you are looking to find a way into Stevie Wonder or classic soul music in general.
The lyrics are quite personal and come away from the more political nature of the previous album (apart from “You Haven’t Done Nothing” of course).
Opening up the set is “Smile Please”, a beautiful way to start proceedings with it’s positive message that despite the troubles you may be going through there are brighter days ahead. The arrangement on this track is classic Stevie Wonder at his best. The instrumentation is rich and full giving an almost live feel to the way it is presented. This is an alluring song that is both relaxed and catchy.
“Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is the next track and Wonder is doing something that he has done on the last couple of albums which is to ask questions of the world and ask questions of God.
Wonder is not providing answers to these questions but just posing the questions and I think more artists in modern music need to try and follow this path by asking questions of our status on this earth. No one really has the answers and only the brave will attempt to answer them (as Wonder does on ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’).
If people say that heaven is 10 zillion light years away, then why can’t hate be the same distance? If you can’t actually know where heaven is then how can you believe in God? Wonder believes he therefore lives within us all.
Instrumentally this song is just superb, and Wonder plays the Clavinet, Bass and drums on this track.
“Too Shy To Say” is simple in it’s story which our protagonist reeling out all the things he loves about a person but despite how much it hurts and how strong his love is he remains just too shy to say it.
It’s simple song all around and could be considered a little bit of filler but I actually think it’s a piece of magic.
“Boogie On Reggae Woman” brings a more funky edge to proceeding as Wonder plays every instrument you hear on this song. He has total control of this song and his vocal performance is almost as if he is just jamming in the studio.
This song is more of a groove piece of music than a song to be lyrically delved into but this song just flows so brilliantly and when the harmonica solo comes in you can really tell that Wonder is enjoying himself. It’s got that ability to just bring you into his world and whilst the song never truly delivers a big chorus that you may think from the verses it is leading up to it still generates a feel good factor.
Hands down my favourite track off the album is “Creepin’”. This understated almost moody song features backing vocals from Minnie Riperton and they are so potent and dreamy it just confirms what a world class vocalist she was.
Wonder delivers vocally on this track too using his lower register to talk about his desire for this person and wondering if she feels the same. The use of the word “creep” suggests that although he lusts after this woman, he is uncomfortable that she enters his dreams as he is not in control.
All instruments are again played by Wonder and his synthesizer use is what really makes the instrumental so engaging.
I would go as far to say this is the most overlooked Stevie Wonder song. Certainly, one of the least talked about when for me it is stunning.
The hit of this album was “You Haven’t Done Nothing”. A swipe at then President Richard Nixon this is a scathing commentary on his leadership. The lyrics are so relevant in 2019 that it is almost as if Wonder had gone forward in time and observed all the terrible leaders we currently have here in the UK and in the US.
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do
Though much concerned but not involved
With decisions that are made by you
But we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
‘Cause if you really want to hear our views
“you haven’t done nothin'”
This track is instrumentally rich and fits perfectly into the anger and mistrust that Wonder pours out lyrically. An exceptional track and one that would have fit perfectly on “Innervisions”. If you are a fan of that album then this is the track for you.
“Ain’t No Use” was a song that I was aware of but never really paid much attention to. In doing this review I listened to it a few times and really fell in love with it. It’s a exquisitely constructed song full of soul with a jazzy edge to it’s instrumentation. I just love the way Wonder sings this song and it really showcases his superb vocal which sometimes gets lost in the plaudits for his ability as an instrumentalist and songwriter. He is the complete package and this just proves it.
If “Ain’t No Use” had beauty, then what is there to say about “They Won’t Go Where I Go”. Arguably the most sombre track Wonder has ever produced. This is a harrowing song in lyric and tone and was writer after a near fatal car crash Wonder was involved in which left him in a coma for 4 days.
But it’s a song that brings up more questions. Is Wonder saying that due to people’s sinning ways that when he dies, they won’t be going to heaven? Is he being that brash or is he saying that when he dies no one he has made a connection with will be going with him? He will die alone like everyone eventually does.
I know there are explanations about the lyrics out there, but I don’t believe it is as simple as some make out and that only Stevie Wonder knows what he is trying to say. Either way it is a very heavy song and not to be listened to if you are feeling fragile, especially about loss or when reflecting on your own mortality.
But it is brilliant. It’s a piece of artistry that just reaffirms how magnificent Stevie Wonder is.
“Bird Of Beauty” brings us out of the sombre moment and lightens things with a Brazilian sounding instrumentation which includes a verse of lyrics sung in Portuguese. The wonderful voice of Denice Williams can be heard on backing vocals. Whilst not a track I am particularly fond of I do think it’s a needed lightener after the previous track.
The final song on the album is “Please Don’t Go”. Whilst it will sound horribly slushy, I can’t deny that this song can really do something to my heart. I find it melodically so attune to my aesthetic that I do get Goosebumps listening to it.
Lyrically it’s a simple tale of not wanting someone to leave but it’s done in such a way it’s almost uplifting.
This is such a wonderful album full of gorgeous songs that every fan of music should listen to.
It has everything you want in an R&B album and whilst it perhaps suffers from the lack of a real danceable track or a funk fusion that we have had on the previous three albums it still delivers lyrically and the production is rich and stunning with Wonder playing just about every instrument you hear on this album.
His ability to craft this type of album through his “classic period” was something I don’t think we have seen since. The run he went on was incredible and he was not done after this release as he would present “Song In the Key of Life” to the world and influence R&B music forever more.
Stevie Wonder is my favourite artist of all time.
“Fulfillingness’ First Finale” shows me why.