Friday, November 04, 2005

Kat's Korner: A Time To Dance

Kat's Korner "A Time To Dance"

Diana Ross and I parted ways over Working Overtime. I could go with the new look (smudged make up, torn jeans) and could even take the jerky title track. What I couldn't take was an album that felt repeating a bromide over and over qualified for lyrics (and "meaning"). As high priestess of love, Diana didn't cut it. Apparently she's passed the robes to Stevie. They don't fit him any better than they did her.

I say that to say: Put on Stevie Wonder's A Time To Love to shake your ass.

Make that your priority and you can't go wrong.

I rushed to Tower the day A Time to Love came out and snapped up my copy. I went home and listened and was despondent to the point of contemplating if I should draw up a will? Then I threw a party and one of the albums playing was A Time to Love.

You can dance to this album.

That's no easy trick. With all the "beats" and name producers, the
Disney Kids' hollow product still can't keep you dancing for an entire CD. Stevie is still the "Master Blaster." That's worth noting.

"So Kat, how come you ain't real high on the album?"

Well, for one thing, I've never been fond of romantic duets between father and daughter. Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Something Stupid" was dubbed "the incest song." Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole carried on the tradition thanks to the "miracle" of techonology. "Unforgettable" stormed the charts but it was creepy as hell and played less like a tribute and more like a struggling artist's attempt to get a hit. (No, I don't mean Nat King Cole.)

On A Time To Love, "How Will I Know" carries on the creepy tradition. It's not a remake of the Whitney Houston hit which might make sense -- the father (Stevie) advising his daughter (Aisha Morris) to "trust your heart." Instead, they trade lines like "How will I know he loves me" and "How will I know she cares" which will creep you out unless you're from an extreme let-it-all-hang-out family.

Before the next parent-child duo contemplates recording a love duet, a bit of advice: DON'T!

That's not the only problem. "From The Bottom Of My Heart" attempts to build a song over a single musical hook. The problem with that is most of us already know "I Just Called To Say I Love You." If we want to hear that song, we'll listen to it.

At six minutes plus, "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" tests your will if you're just listening. If you're dancing, you can get into the music and ignore the fact that Stevie's tossing off sentences the way INXS tosses flashcards in their video for "New Sensation" (which cribbed from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film footage). It adds up to nothing so move that rear and those feet but don't think.

You're better off not thinking throughout the album or you'll be depressed that, as Stevie Wonder runs through another decade as a recording artist, he has nothing to say lyrically.

Tuesday, I learned that a friend had joined the latest version of EST (you all probably know exactly what program I'm referring to). She was full of "You don't know what you don't know" and other drippy sayings that most of us burned out of our systems over bong hits in our teenage years.

I was with Maggie and Toni and we tried to show enthusiasm; however, as the woman continued saying the most trite things as though they possed levels and levels of meanings, Maggie began to giggle, then Toni, and finally I burst out laughing.

"You just don't get it!" the woman shouted storming off.

Yeah, we got it. Self-education for self-interest for the self-focused. Really juvenile. Most of us outgrow it. We look for connections via activism or religion or sex or some combination of the three. We don't sit in a room for hours with no bathroom breaks passing off trite as a journey.

Stevie may not have signed up for those courses but he could certainly teach them. "Love is all that matters" seems to be the theme of this album. It was a pretty good Diane Warren song. But for a man of Stevie Wonder's talents, and presumed wisdom, we expect a little more than greeting cards. There's no "Living for the City" here. There's no "Pastime Paradise" (though the music gets ripped off). The lyrics are the most basic, most banal you could imagine.

Look it, we do need more love today, no question. C.I. and I were at the same World Can't Wait rally and we were doing riffs on "World Can't Wait" ("She needs love"). But Stevie seems to use love in the most generic sense (and most obvious) while expecting the listeners to add their own meaning. Since the album comes with no Lyrics Helper, he's asking a lot.

By the last track on the album, the title song, you get the idea that maybe he should have taken a few more years on this album. The first song tries to say something, the last song is working towards something. It's about love for one another and our interconnectedness. But in the midst of these fifteen songs, Stevie wants to take a long, side trip into bland love celebrated by bland lyrics. (It's as though Stevie's been possed by Paul McCartney.)

"So Kat, you're saying stay away from this album?"

No. I'm saying get it for the music. This isn't sterile music. The lyrics are, but the music is full blooded, breathing. "Moon Blue" is probably the most effective marriage of lyrics and music but if you can ignore the other lyrics and focus on the music, you can really get into this album. Stevie's vocals are strong. He seems to have lost some of his soaring high notes (or is reluctant to use them) but there's a bottom to the voice that's firmer than anything you're probably used to from him.

Shake your ass and appreciate the fact that Stevie knows how to write music and knows how it should be performed.

Maybe after "As," "Supersition," "Pastime Paradise," "Isn't She Lovely," "Overjoyed," "Higher Ground," "That Girl" and assorted others, Stevie's said all he can lyrically?

Bruce Springsteen, though I love him, is not a singer like Stevie Wonder. He can't hide a clunker (such as when he sings one of his favorite phrases -- "wee wee hours"). One of the great joys of
The Cowboy Junkies Early 21st Century Blues is hearing things in the lyrics to "Brothers Under The Bridge" and "You're Missing" that you didn't hear before. Margo Timmins haunting vocals add something to those songs. And I have to wonder what A Time To Love would have been like if Stevie had recorded one of those songs or Dylan's "License to Kill"? Or, for that matter, if he reteamed with Syreeta and let her provide some lyrics?

It'll make you sad if you start thinking about it too much (provided you're a Stevie Wonder fan -- I am), about how we've got two wars waging and we've got an administration and a Congress that seems completely uninterested in renewing the Voting Rights Act, a social net that's been brutalized and letting so many slip through, a war built upon lies, and all the fifty-five year old Stevie Wonder wants to write about is "You lift me to the sky/ When I'm flat on the ground" ("Tell Your Heart I Love You") and "Every time I thought I found you/ I was oh so wrong" ("True Love"). If a sixteen-year-old Debbie Gibson turned out these lyrics, you'd be embarrassed for her. Maybe the lyrical well's run dry, maybe he's a master teacher in the latest version of EST, or maybe he's suffering from a midlife crisis?

Whatever it is, the lyrics aren't worth your time. But if you pump up the bass, ignore the words and shake that ass, you can find hours of enjoyment in this album.