Stevie Wonder is a notoriously slow worker. After a few years on the Motown treadmill followed by a string of albums in the mid ’70s that were both commercially and critically rewarding, Wonder sort of seemed to loose what made him tick virtually overnight. Sappy mid-80’s dance ballads like “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and “Part-Time Lover” were far from terrible songs, but were also not prime Stevie Wonder either. They were just good, not spectacular, and between 1995’s Conversation Piece and 2005’s A Time To Love, there was no new material from Wonder.
So the new album has been long in coming, but albums with such a distinction are not necessarily all that good. On the plus side, the melodies range from very good to outstanding, and Wonder’s natural gifts with a melody mean that he has never put out anything a total clunker, and this is no exception.
On the other side of the table stands the problem that some critics have had with Wonder for years. He just makes some of his music far too long. That’s the major complaint with his latest offering as well. The album, which had its release delayed several times by the artist, makes use of every second of the single CD length, running 79 plus minutes on a medium that maxes out at 80.
Wonder could not have added another song on the disc if he wanted too, but it’s this running time that makes it more difficult for the average listener to get into it. Perhaps if he had kept it at around the 50 minute mark, people would want to play over and over again and it may have had a more viable commercial success.
The singles, “So What The Fuss,” “From The Bottom Of My Heart,” and “Shelter In The Rain” all failed to find their place on the radio, which is really too bad as each is strong.
The effort to get more celebrity cameos on this album than any other in history is commendable and the album’s friendly atmosphere is a refreshing change of pace on the current marketplace. But something was still missing that didn’t allow this to make a huge splash. It didn’t have that extra something, which means that it will now quietly fade into the background as a musically, outstanding, but too long album by a veteran trying to regain his mainstream footing.