Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 – #2

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

If you had “socially conscious Stevie Wonder” on your pop music bingo card in 1973, you could have completed the line that included “Dolly Parton sweet talks a ho”, “Marvin Gaye brings even more sexy” and “some new guy named Bruce” for a bingo with the free space in the middle.

There are songs about drug abuse, reincarnation, meditation, urban decay and crime, (allegedly) Richard Nixon, and, because it’s Stevie, love, though maybe that’s really what all of these songs are about. Even in a powerhouse like “Living for the City”, with its tale of the struggle to survive, it starts with a foundation of familial love. 

Conventional romantic love isn’t forgotten. The uptempo piano ballad “Golden Lady” has a pseudo Latin feel, and it glides along, melodic and soothing, as the underlying music becomes more complex. “All in Love is Fair” is impassioned and intense, full of regret that emerges towards the end with the vocals becoming strained as the piano keys hit harder, and could serve as the closing theme over the credits of a tragic romance movie. 

More aggressively Latin is the super fun “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” (probably my favourite track), which finds the cocky narrator trying to impress his girl, but the chorus shows his limitations. He tells her “I’ll be standing on the side when you check it out”, and while he thinks she’s overreaching and should be content, in fact she’s trying new things while he is afraid to put himself out there.

But it’s the three more spiritual tracks that make the greatest impression. There is a sense of disenchantment in the fantasy soundscape of “Visions”, of seeing wonderful things that really aren’t. It becomes somewhat neurotic in the latter stages, before ending on a hopeful note. The funky dance vibe of “Higher Ground” lauds reincarnation and the process of growth, but the verses show that everyone keeps repeating the same old patterns. Finally, the mellow “Jesus Children of America” questions how to find peace and the price paid to achieve it.

Just a great record from start to end. Break out your dabbers (or daubers – this is apparently a matter of some controversy in the bingo community) – Marvin will be along soon.