Saturday, December 24, 2011

Creative And Interesting, I Still Can't Recommend Buying Stevie Wonder's Music Of My Mind

The Good: Moments of creativity, Decent instrumentals
The Bad: Average Stevie Wonder vocals, Remarkably average lyrics, SHORT
The Basics: Indistinct and terribly repetitive, Music Of My Mind leaves the listener with very little of an impression.

One of the things I seldom address in my music reviews is the concept of how/why I look to recommend or not recommend a musical work. In addition to the quality of the music, I look at the duration of the album and on works that I find average, I consider shelf space. Seriously. Ultimately, sometimes on works that seem average, I consider how people have finite time, money, and shelf space with which to build a collection and I ask "is this truly worthy of a permanent collection?" As a result, sometimes when I add in those factors on an average work, I find that it becomes impossible for me to recommend it.

That is where I find myself on the Stevie Wonder album Music Of My Mind. Is it good? Yes, I suppose. Is it indispensable? No. If you have a thousand c.d.s, is it likely to be one you listen to even once a year? Probably not. As a result, I ultimately found that this album was just too average to recommend. Having listened to it eight times, there are no tracks that truly stand out and/or intrigue me. I find myself listening to it and when it restarts, I am left with a "meh" feeling and without any real impression of what I have been listening to. And having listened to some truly great Stevie Wonder albums, I know that Wonder is capable - in fact, quite good at - of leaving an impression upon the listener.

With nine tracks, adding up to 47:53, Music Of My Mind is largely the musical vision of Stevie Wonder. The first album of Wonder's that he produced, he wrote or co-wrote all of the songs. This gives him almost all of the creative control over the album and as a result, he bears the responsibility for the sound and content. Wonder performs the lead vocals on every song and he is credited with playing the Moog and Arp synthesizers. In other words, this is, truly, his album.

Unfortunately, it is also generally bland, plagued with more average vocals, instrumentals and lyrics than most of his other albums. Vocally, for example, the only time he breaks out and actually sings with an emotion that is undeniable is on the final track, "Evil." There, he lets his voice soars and he is expressive and clear, his tone evoking the powerful emotions of loss and disbelief in the state of the world that the lyrics call for.

But that is the exception to the rule on the album. The album opens with "Love Having You Around," which Wonder drones through almost amelodically, like he is telling a story. His vocals do not illustrate either appreciation or desire over the subject of his line being in his life. Instead, it is passionless, inexpressive and his vocal range is kept limited to the safe, mid-range vocals that he is comfortable in. This, unfortunately, is how many of the tracks go.

As well, several of the songs, like "Love Having You Around" has background vocals that are distracting for the way they are produced and mixed. The vocals drone like a crowd in the background, leaving the listener more befuddled than impressed.

Unfortunately, Music Of My Mind is not Stevie Wonder's greatest lyrical outing, either. Take, for example, "Happier Than The Morning Sun," one of the more poetic songs on the album. This song has a decent refrain of "I'm happier than the morning sun / And that's the way you said that it would be / If I should ever bring you inside my life" "("Happier Than The Morning Son"). Unfortunately, those three lines are repeated at least eight times in the song, with additional repetitions of the title. In a song barely over five minutes, this is terrible and made worse by the fact that much of the bridges between the refrains are "bom" and "dum" repeated ad nauseam. The result is a track that is tiresome to the ear.

This is not to say that Wonder has no decent musical stories on Music Of My Mind; he does. Perhaps the most direct is "Superwoman" which actually has a sensibility close to that of folk-rock music in the tradition of musical storytelling. With its lines like "Mary wants to be a superwoman / And try to boss the bull around / But does she really think that she will get by with a dream / My woman want to be a superwoman / And I just had to say good-bye / Because I can't spend all my hours start to cry" ("Superwoman") Wonder viably creates musical protagonists, tells a musical story and carries a theme. The song is not bad and it works to illustrate that Wonder can do something other than just sing about love with his songs.

Sadly, that seems a niche he is often too happy to let himself get trapped in. And while there are truly masterful love songs by Stevie Wonder, the ones on Music Of My Mind are far more blase and average. When singing about desire, the best Wonder seems to muster on this album are rhymes that were even stale and predictable when they were new, such as "Some folks say that you're really, really fine, / All you want to be is just a friend of mine, / But I know, the man your with gonna break your heart, / And you'll be sad real soon, yea. / Keep on running, / Keep on running from my love, / Keep on running, yea, / Keep on running from my love" ("Keep On Running"). Rhyming the same words with themselves over and over is bad enough, but that he keeps repeating that over and over again within the song is just inexcusable.

Instrumentally, Music Of My Mind is also particularly bland. This has more of a "one man and his piano (synth)" sound to it than many of his other albums which are musically rich. This one, though, is limited and after eight listens to the album I am fairly sure I could not pick a single tune off this album. There are no hooks, no catches, nothing that stands out musically. It is melodic, but indistinctive and ultimately, sadly, quite bland.

Fans of Stevie Wonder or those just getting into him deserve something with more punch, impact and memorability than this. As it is, it is pretty bland, repetitive and - yes, one might not think it possible for Stevie Wonder - generic R&B.

The best track is the smooth and articulate "Evil," the low point is "Happier Than The Morning Sun."

For other works by Stevie Wonder, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie
Eivets Rednow
Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I
Conversation Peace
Natural Wonder
The Definitive Collection
A Time To Love


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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