Stevie Wonder released Characters on November 6, 1987. It would be eight years before he issued another studio album. His commercial decline had begun, as it was his lowest charting album since 1972’s Music Of My Mind.
The album was primarily aimed at a black urban audience, as many of the songs dealt with the social issues of the day. This focus no doubt hurt its sales across the broad spectrum of music fans but it proved popular with his target audience, as it topped the Billboard Magazine Rhythm & Blues Album Chart for seven weeks and produced two number one R&B singles. All in all, it may have been too worldly for many of his pop fans.
It was by no means a bad release and compares well with other music of the late 1980s. It’s just that the highs were not as high as in the past and while there were some very good songs, none are essential to his legacy.
There are three tracks that stand above the rest. “You Will Know” was both a sad and hopeful ballad at the same time. “Skeletons” was a smooth up-tempo tune that settled into a danceable groove. It was his last Top 40 pop hit to date. The best and most creative of the lot was the ballad “With Each Beat Of My Heart.” It had a nice melody and a tasty harmonica solo. The song was built around an actual heartbeat.
“Get It,” with guest artist Michael Jackson, occupies the middle ground in terms of quality, as it never really takes off. “Dark ‘N’ Lovely” may not be perfect but at least it got a little funky in places.
At the other end of the scale were songs such as “Cryin’ Through The Night,” “Galaxy Paradise,” “One of A Kind,” and particularly “In Your Corner,” which have all deservedly disappeared into the depths of his large catalogue of music.
Characters was his last release of the 1980s and while he retained his sense of social consciousness, in some ways it seems he was just coasting. It was a release that contained some good moments but it is not a place to linger given the quality of his previous work.