Prior to picking up this battered copy of Talking Book the other day, I’m fairly confident I’d never listened to a Stevie Wonder album all the way through. My relationship with Stevie was via his greatest hits catalog, songs I’d hear on my parent’s car stereo, and probably “Ebony and Ivory” when it first came out. I know the same ones everyone else does, though I suspect that my depth of knowledge is much shallower than a typical person my age. I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason I was just never curious enough to listen just a little harder.
The 1,500th Post All Time Top 5 experiment got Stevie Wonder back on my radar, as two of my friends included Songs In The Key Of Life on their lists. The only copy I fond the other day was in pretty bleak shape so I passed on it, but I did snag this VG (OK, maybe a bit less than VG…) copy of Talking Book, which was from the same period. I figured the album would be in a similar feel to it’s opening track, the Stevie-mega-hit “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”, but that’s not when I got when I dropped the needle. In fact, that song is more the exception than the rule. There’s a certain sterility about that track, even on vinyl (♠), that sound that comes from such a great song being so perfectly performed that it seem fake, as in “c’mon man, no one can possibly make a song so impeccably smooth”, but there it is… real. So real and so perfect as to almost become boring. But don’t worry, because the rest of Talking Book is real. And I’m not talking just about the blazing funk of the B side opening “Superstition”, with that simmering tempo rise and Wonder’s spiritualism-soaked voice. That’s pretty good too, and fortunately didn’t succumb to the perfection-induced fate of its partner.
Don’t let this make you think Talking Book is two hit singles and eight fillers because that would be a terrible mistake and you wouldn’t listen to the rest of this great music. Sure, “Blame It On The Sun” feels like an attempt at radio-friendly chart-topper, but there’s a lot of depth to the rest of this album. The sentimental-without-being-sappy “Big Brother”, the prog-rock-style guitar solo dropped into the middle of the otherwise smooth jazz of “Lookin For Another Pure Love”, and the crescendo of “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” are more than ample reasons to get yourself a copy of Talking Book. Plus you get a few big hits thrown in for free.
(♠) I think the flatter sound I hear on this 1970s vinyl is, in this case, better than something remastered over say the last 30 years. That flatness actually serves Wonder well.