The early 1980s found Stevie Wonder producing a soundtrack album, a greatest hits release, touring constantly, and even producing a chart topping duet single with Paul McCartney. What he did not do was release a true studio album. In Square Circle was issued September 13, 1985, and was his first new studio album since 1980’s Hotter Than July. It would prove to be the last of his huge commercially successful albums and formed a bridge to his modern releases.
He continued his practice of playing a number of the instruments himself as well as writing all of the tracks. He does use several guitarists and a vast number of backing vocalists. I miss his drumming which was due to his extensive use of programmable drum machines. He has always been a noted keyboardist but an underappreciated drummer, but it was the 1980s and time marched onrward.
As with many of his albums, the parts were better than the whole. It was not a cohesive effort but when each track was taken on its own, there were some very good individual pieces.
It was also his last album to produce multiple hit singles, including his final solo number one. “Part-Time Lover” was his last huge single hit to date and was a deserved number one. It was a smooth song, both melodically and vocally, plus told a great story. The top ten hit, “Go Home,” was a keyboardist’s delight and had a funky beauty about it. The last of the three hits was the gentle ballad, “Overjoyed.”
There are a number of lesser known songs that hold up well. “I Love You So Much” had impeccable production with its layered keyboards. “Never In Your Sun” was one of those songs, where every once in a while, he would cut loose on the harmonica. There were several social commentary songs but the best was “It’s Wrong (Apartheid),” the title of which explains the lyrics.
In Square Circle may not have the overall creativity of his classic album period but there are some well written and performed songs that rank near his best. Even the second tier of Stevie Wonder albums are worth a visit now and then.