1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#36: Stevie Wonder – Characters (1987)
MATT KELLY on an album that offered up Stevie Wonder as a spent force whose dull songs sounded like offcuts and just went on and on and on…
Why would you begin an album with something as sedentary as ‘You Will Know’? Why wouldn’t you kick things off with a more engaging song? Oh, I know BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ANY.
This album is painful to listen to. I groaned out loud as I suffered through yet another round of two-minute codas where the track goes on a four-second loop and Stevie mutters and vamps aimlessly, and the truly awful drum sounds are just the nail in the coffin.
The sound of an artist running on fumes if not entirely exhausted, Characters may be Stevie’s lowest point. I doubt I’m alone in thinking this given that here is where mass audiences jumped off the Stevie train (mostly flocking to Prince who was just coming off a run of albums that blew Stevie out of the water – and Stevie impersonates Prince on ‘Galaxy Paradise’ so it seems he was aware).
The sins of the past two albums are doubled down on interminably long songs (why the hell is ‘With Each Beat Of My Heart’ SIX MINUTES LONG?), corny and dated production (‘In Your Corner’s’ tinny synths sound cheap and childish), and a general tendency towards being relentlessly repetitive (‘Skeletons’).
Not even a duet with Michael Jackson (‘Get It’) which should have been a big deal, can generate much excitement. Stevie can still sing well – he’s rather affecting on ‘You Will Know’ – but musically this is foot-dragging and pulseless. A genuinely hard to get through 50-minute slog.