Muse came to Bangkok a few weeks back and almost everyone I know went. Me with a kid at home, well, concerts don’t really happen anymore. But everyone was raving about it the day after, so I decided to check them out and loved what I heard. I know one of the conditions for album picks in the Sonic Collective is that they should have had some kind of meaning for us, but despite only recently learning of Muse, I know that if I had known about Black Holes and Revelations in 2006, I would most definitely have had it on repeat for weeks.Continue reading
Review of Stevie Wonder: Innervisions
Please read Scott Coates’ selection article of Stevie Wonder: Innervisions before reading our reviews below.
The reviews of this classic album are in, and well, we all had different takes at what this album meant and how much we liked it. Personally, I (Darren) like when I get to read these reviews as you really get so many perspectives. As in this selection, I really had troubles connecting to the music but others had such glowing reviews it mage me wonder how on this one it doesn’t connect to me but it does with both of the Scotts. It also demonstrates how you can have an appreciation for the music but you might just not like it personally. You don’t need a reason, you just like it or you don’t.
One thing we all agreed was that Stevie Wonder is a legend and that not only should you listen to Innervisions but you should take time to get to know the stories of Stevie Wonder and enjoy his entire catalogue.
As always, the meat is in the individual reviews but here are some themes we saw from all the reviews.
What was cool about this album:
- Stevie Wonder wrote all the songs and pretty much played every instrument on the album. Um.. yeah… that’s talent.
- Higher Ground. A classic song that deserves the praise it receives. It’s funky, fun and kicks ass.
- Stevie’s bravery and passion to send then US President Richard Nixon a political message in his songs on the state of America and the challenges of racism and corrupt power.
- Through his music and voice Stevie influenced a mountain of artists with this album.
What we didn’t find so cool :
- Some of us found the sound of the synthesizer dated and that it didn’t translate well when played now.
- The flow of the album was sometimes sporadic as it was a concept album that was trying to tell a story but a few of us felt it just sounded disconnected.
- Though Higher Ground was fast, funky and fun, many of the other tracks were more ballad oriented and slow.
- Though we appreciated the album our white guy panel mostly all admitted this music didn’t really influence our tastes. Our next members definitely need to be more varied and we need some women!
We have also implemented a rating scale that you will see below in the reviews. All ratings are out of 5.
Our Reviews Average:
Overall opinion: 3
Would we recommend?: 4
Influenced our tastes: 2
Worth the hype? 4
Read our full individual reviews below.
Don’t agree with us? Have a comment or suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or contact us.
Our Full Reviews
Scott Coates’s Review – This was Scott’s Pick
I wasn’t sure what to expect while listening to Innervisions. Stevie Wonder is an artist I felt I’d known my entire life, but after thinking about it, I only knew a few of his singles that charted since the early Eighties. Knowledge of these few tracks hardly constitute knowing an artist who many consider to be one of the musical greats and listening to Innervisions has given me a much deeper appreciation for his work and brilliance.
Innervisions serves as a time capsule of the early Seventies, with highly charged political lyrics that capture the social landscape of the time. At the same time the grooves are deep throughout, managing to peak the listener’s conscious while entertaining, not an easy feat. I’m not a person who is usually able to understand or digest lyrics easily and I found Innervisions radiated fully, both musically and lyrically.
The music itself is great. From slow ballads like Visions to floor-stompers like Higher Ground, each track kept me tapping my toes, and I looked forward to subsequent listens. To think that Wonder played most of the instruments himself is truly incredible. And then there are the lyrics. While I think I roughly know the history of the African American struggle, the album added a rich layer to my knowledge. Living for the City is a track I’d heard, but never really paid enough attention to. Hearing the background of a man arriving in New York City, only to get caught up in a drug deal and tossed in to prison for 10 years had great impact.
It’s rare that an album can turn out captivating sounds, make social statements, and generate hit singles. Innervisions manages to do all these things and sounds as good today as I’m sure it did more than 40 years ago. It’s a work that radiated with me, has instilled a greater appreciation of the artist, and every music lover should give a spin at least a couple times. Stop reading and hit ‘Play’.
Overall opinion: 4
Would I recommend?: 4
Influenced my tastes: 4
Worth the hype?: 4
Darren Scott’s Review
Ok, I want to get across that these reviews are really tough. Here are the 3 main reasons they are so tough:
- You have to keep in focus that you just have to review the album selected and not the complete works of the artist.
- You have to listen to these albums while mentally projecting yourself back to the year and state of the world when they were made but also judging if they still hold up as great music now.
- You have to try to be objective but stay true to who you are and the music you like.
I felt I had to cover these reasons above as I want to say that I really like Stevie Wonder and love many of his songs, but I really struggled to connect with Innervisions.
It was great to read about the album and how he basically played all the instruments and wrote and sang all the music (Maybe this is where Dave Grohl got his idea for the Foo Fighters?). It was also interesting to find out about the impact this album had on the future of black music and the ARP synthesizer he used which was cutting edge at the time of release in 1973. I’m a sucker for a great story of an album but I also have to connect to the music. That’s where this album didn’t connect with me.
Though I could appreciate what Stevie was doing with this album, and I know that at the time the sound was fresh, I really found most of the songs too sporadic for my taste and the concept album and political and social issues were lost on me. I will admit that I don’t usually like much slower music like ballads so that will play a factor here as well.
I did like Higher Ground and Don’t you Worry ‘bout a Thing very much, as these are some of his best songs and as I listened to this album through several times I just caught myself waiting to hear these two songs. I did also like lots of the elements of some songs when Stevie would lay down some of his signature funk progressions.
Overall, I just found the sound too dated and that it didn’t hold up as well in current times with exception of the two songs I liked. But hey, having 2 big hits on an album is more than most so this is definitely worth a listen. This was more just a personal taste thing for me but I can’t say I’d ever put that album on again to listen as a whole. Thanks for everything Stevie.
Overall opinion: 3
Would I recommend?: 3
Influenced my tastes: 2
Worth the hype? 4
Alain DuPuis’s Review
This was the first time I’ve ever given anything from Stevie Wonder a serious listen, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. With an open mind, I hit play, and was instantly taken by the warmth of the production. I was very surprised to learn that the album was recorded in 1973. Maybe I’m listening to a re-mastered version, but whatever. It sounds lovely. My second thought was “DAMN. Stevie is one seriously talented individual!” His voice is smoother than the lines on a new Porsche. Instrumentally, this album is equally impressive. The guitars are fantastic. The synthesizers are pretty good too, though it’s gotta be said – the sound of the moog really dates the music, serving as a reminder that this album is from the early 70s.
Despite all its strengths, the thing is that I just couldn’t get into it. I can appreciate the hell out of it for how good it sounds. It’s just not at all my cup of tea. Too funky, maybe? I dunno. I just didn’t really find myself excited to listen to it over and over in preparation for the review.
Higher Ground. Probably the only song I was even vaguely familiar with from this album, in the sense that I had heard it (or a cover of it) before. I had no idea it was Stevie Wonder though. That said, it’s catchy and became my favourite track.
The vocals: Oh, Stevie… if I could sing even a quarter as well as you can, I’d be… well, I’d be a really really good singer.
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing is a fun, upbeat track that cheered me up any time it came on – if only briefly. Maybe that’s just because it followed up All in Love is Fair…
I didn’t like:
All in Love is Fair. This song is slow, lugubrious, and frankly hits way too close to home for me. I think I rage-quitted this track several times over.
Soul / funk. I know this is a totally personal and subjective thing, but this genre does absolutely nothing for me.
Stevie Wonder’s Innervision is a fantastic album. I think everyone should listen to it at least once, if only to be exposed to some honest-to-God talent. I can’t praise this album enough for how good it sounds. But, if you’re like me and not into soul, or funk, it may not make it to your permanent playlist.
Overall opinion: 3
Would I recommend?: 5
Influenced my tastes: 1
Worth the hype? 4
Greg Jorgensen’s Review
This was a really interesting choice for me, as beyond an occasional background listen to Superstition and a passing reference to Talking Books in Eddie Murphy’s famous standup special Delirious, I knew almost nothing about Stevie Wonder. I was a bit surprised then that I really, really disliked this album on the first listen. Spoiler alert – I still don’t like it, but I’m really conflicted – after subsequent listens I can’t help but admire the album’s achievement and place in music history.
Yes, I know that Stevie is a genius and has had a wonderful, varied, influential, and important career, but this type of music is just not my bag. They lyrics are important and speak to a volatile time in American culture, and when you realize that every note and chord and arrangement was done by Wonder himself you can’t help but be impressed – especially when you consider the dozens of producers on modern music that has a bit less staying power than anything Wonder did. The dude is a force of musical nature. But those cheesy vibrato guitars and wa-wa-wa disco organs and clavinets…I just cringe.
The album’s first two songs – Too High and Visions – are awful, lightweight, goofy, syrupy nonsense. Jesus Children of America, He’s Mistra Know-It-All…boo. But what I liked, I really liked. Despite having many of the same instruments as the other songs I didn’t like, Living for the City and Higher Ground are rolling, toe-tapping favorites. I’m not versed enough in music to understand why – the arrangement? Production? – but they stuck. The more I listened, the more I liked. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing started off with a great Latin rhythm and I was excited…but it never really kept it going to the same tempo.
I know bad mouthing an album considered one of the best of music’s best might cause some to shake their heads, but maybe it’s just rooted too deeply in an age where the dominant sound is one that grates on my nerves. I felt a bit like a bad music fan, but aside from a few standouts, this one didn’t do it for me.
Overall opinion: 2
Would we recommend?: 3
Influenced our tastes: 0
Worth the hype? 3
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Nine Inch Nails is not so much a band as it is one man’s musical sandbox. That man is Trent Reznor, and even if you’ve never heard of him before, chances are you’ve probably heard some of the music he’s produced over his prolific career, either through movies or video games. But long before Reznor was an award-winning producer, he was a janitor…
Working nights as a handyman and janitor at the Right Track Studio in Cleveland, Ohio, Reznor took advantage of his down time and access to equipment to record and develop his own music. Playing most of the keyboards, drum machines, guitars, and samplers himself, he recorded a demo and began to shop it around to various record labels. Eventually settling on the name “Nine Inch Nails”, he scored a deal with TVT, a small label originally known as TeeVee Toons, whose bread and butter was releasing novelty and television jingle records.
Thanks to his new recording contract, Reznor got the opportunity to work with a number of producers he idolized, and thus Pretty Hate Machine was born. Much like the demo he cut, Reznor refused to record with a conventional band, preferring to record by himself.
On October 20th, 1989, Nine Inch Nails released Pretty Hate Machine to commercial success, and mixed critical reception. It was the starting point of a long, storied career for Trent Reznor, and it’s the album we’re reviewing this month.
Listen to Pretty Hate Machine on Rdio
Wikipedia – Pretty Hate Machine
Wikipedia – Trent Reznor
Other albums under consideration for this month’s review:
- Alanis Morisette – Jagged Little Pill
- New Kids on the Block – Step By Step
- Rage Against The Machine – Rage Agaist The Machine