As good as his 1972 release Talking Book was, 1973s Innervisions was better. While it can be endlessly debated which Stevie Wonder album is his best, if I had to make a choice, this would be the one.
Innervisions continued the commercial and artistic success established by his several previous releases. As had become his custom he wrote all the songs, produced the album, played most of the instruments, and arranged the music. The synthesizer had become his central instrument and his use of it allowed him to explore new areas of not only rhythm & blues but of American pop and rock as well.
While the album does not have an overall concept or musical cohesiveness, the individual parts are so good, it really does not matter. Songs of love, spirituality, and biting social commentary all join together to form one of the creative and defining albums in American music history.
The foundation of the album and one of the pivotal songs of his career was the seven-minute “Living For The City.” If you are only familiar with the three-and-a-half-minute hit single, you have missed its full power and impact. The lyrics tell a harsh tale of poverty and racism from the South to the big city, while Wonder’s emotional and gritty vocal bring the story to life. It remains as relevant today as when it was originally released 38 years ago.
There are three other tracks that attacked the ills of America at the time. “Too High” has a smooth jazzy/funky feel that belies the message concerning drug use. “Jesus Children Of America” is aimed at religious fundamentalists, confronting the issue of not practicing what you preach. “He’s Misstra Know It All” is grounded in the 1970s as it targets everyone’s favorite whipping post, Richard Nixon.
“Higher Ground” was another hit single, a fusion of rock and funk on which Wonder explored his spiritual side. “Visions” can also be considered a spiritual piece as its innate beauty allows the listener to appreciate his mind’s imaginings at the time.
And yet the love songs form the heart of this album. “Golden Lady” is a too-often-forgotten ballad that is made all the more interesting by its tempo changes. “All In Love Is Fair” travels in a different direction as it deals with love’s painful difficulties. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,’ with its Latin rhythms, is a calming song of support.
Innervisions speaks a musical language of its own and has withstood the test of time well. It is not only an essential Stevie Wonder release but remains one of the superior albums of its era.