At The Close Of A Century

20 years of incontrovertibly fantastic music. Pure joy, in fact...

At The Close Of A Century

8 / 10 The problem with Stevie Wonder, even at his creative peak, was that he was never quite fucked up enough to be cool. While his contemporaries - Otis, Curtis, Marvin, Sly - effortlessly played the wounded lovers, the inner city bluesmen, Wonder's genius always best expressed itself ecstatically. 'At The Close Of A Century', a suitably expansive box set released to mark his 50th birthday, proves him to be the definitive voice of soul rapture. That Wonder's had the bad grace to cheerfully stay alive and out of trouble has, in a way, blighted his credibility forever.



Said credibility hasn't been helped, of course, by him making precious little resembling a good record for the past 20 years. It's a strange career when you release your first hit when you're 13, in 1963, work like a bastard for the next 17 years producing a series of life-enhancingly brilliant records, then turn 30 and become magically shit. Save the tumbling euphoria of 'Do I Do', it's wise to leave CD-four in the box. And just revel in the other three.



, he still can't help screaming his love from the rooftops; and the itchy clavinet funk of 'You Met Your Match' is a sign of what was to come in the '70s...



Namely, the run of albums from 'Talking Book' to 'Songs In The Key Of Life' that saw Wonder reinvented as a kind of divine renaissance man. A bizarre hybrid of earnest mystic, concerned American citizen, Moog faddist and massive control freak, what powered him on was a still-tenacious grasp on the simple power of a great pop song. Next, he made 'The Secret Life Of Plants', still the best cosmic prog-soul double concept album about gardening ever made, and 'I Just Called To Say I Love You', a record you can never tire of breaking. But as these first three CDs show, before that was nearly 20 years of incontrovertibly fantastic music. Pure joy, in fact.

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