Wonder takes ‘Time’
Stevie Wonder isn’t trembling over seismic shifts that have rocked the music landscape since his last studio album surfaced in 1995. What’s a little shake-up when you have rock-solid music on your side?
A positive buzz is heralding A Time to Love, a meticulously crafted R&B collection that has been under construction for the past decade. Incorporating pop, jazz, R&B, funk and hip-hop, the album blends Wonder’s soulful voice and crisp arrangements with input from prestigious guests, including Paul McCartney, Prince, India Arie, Kim Burell and Kirk Franklin. But is Time multifaceted enough to reach the multiple niches feeding the airwaves?
“You’ve got too many formats √≥ adult contemporary, adult alternative, soft rock, neo-soul √≥ come on!” Wonder says with a laugh. “I’m hoping I will fit in all the marketplaces and not be limited to one place in music.”
After repeated postponements, Time is due in stores on Tuesday after a late-September release to online sites to qualify for Grammy eligibility. Pundits are debating whether Time can recapture the glory of the Wonder years when the prolific prodigy produced 1972’s Talking Book, 1973’s Innervisions and 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life, which formed a sonic holy grail for generations of R&B and rap artists.
His hit count and productivity have waned over the years but not his enthusiasm or attention to detail. After rolling past earlier due dates, Wonder again yanked Time for further tooling just before the June release, derailing press and marketing campaigns.
“I didn’t want to settle for anything less than what I wanted,” says the notorious perfectionist. “I didn’t feel comfortable with some of the mixes, and I wanted to work a bit on some vocals. You could always say, ‘I want a couple more songs or this or that musician.’ You could go on and on. I’m pretty happy with everything now.”
Making records in his youth, when no other responsibilities intruded, was much easier than carving out long days in the studio at age 55.
“It’s more challenging now than it was doing Songs in the Key of Life when I was about to be the father of one child,” he says. “Now I have seven. Even when I’m in the studio, there are phone calls and things that get in the way. Being older changes everything.”
Except his passion. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, receiving a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1996 and joining the elite Kennedy Center honorees in 1999, Wonder is a warhorse with nothing left to win. And he’s champing at the bit. “I still get excited,” he says. “And it never becomes routine.”
The new disc is okay, but it is doubtful that it will find an audience in today’s marketplace.
Wonder takes ‘Time’