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Weak by Wonder standards, but still very good

By Stevie Wonder

Motown Records: 1987

This review first appeared in the January/February 1988 issue of A Critique of America.

Stevie Wonder is that rare anomaly – a musician who has made his career on the pop charts, yet is respected by his peers in the more artistic musical arenas, even playing on a jazz albums, for instance.

"Characters," his latest effort, contains the high standard of composition we have come to expect and appreciate from Wonder. Still, something seems to be lacking here. It's not the vocals, which are as hip as ever – Wonder interjecting his syllabic rhythms at just the right moment. And as mentioned, it's not the songwriting.

Maybe it's the lack of interplay with other musicians, Wonder playing almost every instrument here. Perhaps it's the lack of acoustic or percussive instrumentation, with synthesized sounds dominating the disc.

For whatever reasons, this album just doesn't click the way 1980's "Hotter Than July" did. Sure, "Skeletons" off the new disc is cool enough, and reportedly the MTV video for it is great, but the song-to-song continuity of past Wonder outings seems absent.

Still, a less than perfect Stevie Wonder album is better than almost anyone else's best. If you like the man, you'll like "Characters."