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Wonder’s ‘Love’ doesn’t have his usual genius

New CD doesn’t have the relevance of some of his past albums
/ Source: The Associated Press

Each May, hundreds of people pack a trendy New York club for a Stevie Wonder birthday bash. Wonder doesn’t attend — but that doesn’t stop the party.

That’s because the evening’s draw is not the man, but a night of his Wonder-ful music: hours of classics, from “Isn’t She Lovely” to “Golden Lady” to “Living for the City,” all a testament to his undeniable musical genius.

Sadly, if any material from his newest album, “A Time for Love,” makes the cut next year, it might clear the dance floor. Comprised mainly of so-so ballads and rote uptempo numbers, this album reinforces the familiar knock on Wonder — that he hasn’t made any compelling material since groundbreaking albums like “Original Musiquarium” and “Innervisons” decades ago.

Which actually isn’t true. His 1991 soundtrack to Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” was a dazzling disc that should be ranked among his classics, and 1995’s “Conversation Peace” had plenty of strong material that proved his relevance after more than three decades in the business.

It’s hard to hear that relevance in “A Time To Love.” Much of it sounds dated, particularly the funk grooves, which sound like they’re stuck in some early ’90s time warp, weighed down by heavy drum machines and synthesizers.

The first track, “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved,” sounds mechanical and soulless, despite the presence of gospel star Kim Burrell. “From the Bottom of My Heart” ranks with Wonder’s saccharine hit “For Your Love.” And “So What The Fuss,” featuring Prince on guitar, sounds too much like a George Clinton song — disappointing from an artist of paramount originality and creativity.

Wonder’s best music has always stirred the heart and soul with sparkling musical arrangements and spellbinding lyrics. There are few examples of that here. “How Will I Know,” a duet with his daughter Aisha Morris, is lovely and touching — Wonder’s voice complements his daughter’s sweet soprano perfectly, and his crisp piano melody is truly enchanting. The jazzy arrangement of “Moon Blue” gives it life, and “Shelter In The Rain” is an inspiring, uplifting anthem.

But those are the exceptions. While the album is certainly not bad, it’s not compelling enough to merit multiple listens — a painful statement to make (especially for this die-hard Stevie fan). It’s hard to believe this album took ten years to complete. Anyone needing their Stevie Wonder fix would do better reaching into their archives.