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At The Close Of A Century
Box Set, 4 CD, Remastered
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At The Close Of A Century
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Finally there's a boxed set that covers his ENTIRE career with 70 tracks drawn from singles, soundtracks and 20 albums. Notes, photos and a discography, too! Includes Fingertips Parts 1 & 2; Uptight (Everything's Alright); Blowin' in the Wind; A Place in the Sun; Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day; For Once in My Life; My Cherie Amour; Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday; Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours; If You Really Love Me; Superstition; You Are the Sunshine of My Life; Higher Ground; Living for the City; Master Blaster (Jammin'); I Just Called to Say I Love You every Top 10 hit!
At the Close of a Century may seem a rather portentous title for a box set, even one showcasing the work of such a formidable writer-performer as Stevie Wonder. Consider, though, that these discs appear a few months before Wonder's 50th birthday and that he's already spent 36 years making records; he has more right than most to get a little highfalutin when invoking temporal milestones. Despite various retrospectives over the years, Close is the first to cover the arc of Wonder's entire career. By the end of the first disc we've heard his early Motown hits and watched him develop into the masterful artist who'd go on to stack up landmark album after landmark album in the '70s. (Aretha Franklin's Wonder-penned hit "Until You Come Back to Me" is here in a rare version by the composer.) The string of LPs from Talking Book (1972) to Hotter Than July (1980) provides gem after gem on the two middle CDs--with all of 1973's Innervisions save one cut represented--while post-"Master Blaster" winners such as "That Girl" and "Overjoyed" are the meat of the final disc. Add a smart booklet of essays, photos, and a discography, and this handsome package starts to look like a sharp addition to the collections of even hard-core Stevie buffs. --Rickey Wright
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Stevie Wonder and I are almost exactly the same age, born a week apart; I've had the pleasure of being present for every step of his journey. I remember being 13, listening to a transistor radio (look it up), and hearing Fingertips Part II blaring out of an AM radio station. The energy, excitement, and pure funk were irresistible. (Turns out Marvin Gaye was playing drums on that track!) The Top 40 years as Motown's child prodigy are covered particularly well in this box set.
When Wonder turned 21, he made the smartest decision of his life, and acted with incredible courage. Barry Gordy was running a plantation at Motown, exercising his unique gift for exploitation with regal power. Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder battled for complete independence, total creative control and ownership of all his material - Motown heresy. His first album reflecting the new relationship, Music Of My Mind, was completely groundbreaking, and Talking Book, which followed, was otherworldly and nearly perfect. (Blame It On The Sun, from Talking Book, sadly did not make the cut here.) This raises another point. Even though this compilation has been collected with tremendous care, there are still omissions. (Where is With Each Beat Of My Heart?) Wonder has been so prolific and so consistently great that even 4 discs cannot do him justice; amazing.
The disks move chronologically, walking you through the evolution of a man who embodies the concept of a "complete package." Certainly he's a gifted performer, and a wonderful singer who holds nothing back. But his ability to compose a hit song is nothing short of masterful; it seems so simple when he does it. Most significant of all, I think, is the ability to roam the emotional landscape fearlessly - inviting us inside. Wonder makes himself vulnerable in a way that is virtually unknown. He takes you as high as you can stand and swoops down low to the places that could break you in half. Most of all, Little Stevie embraces life as it is. (As a child he used to climb trees and make his mother crazy with fear.) Personally I'm fond of Ribbon In The Sky but frankly, with Stevie, you simply can't go wrong.
It starts as it must with the joyous songs which made Little Stevie Wonder the young legend: "Fingertips", "Uptight" and "Shoo-Be-Do-Be-Doo-Da-Day". Then some more mature love songs like "I was Made to Love Her" and "My Cherie Amour", and then serious works from Fulfillingness First Finale and the masterpieces of Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. It also includes his later works from Hotter Than July and thereafter.
Listening to all this make you realize just how much great music Wonder has recorded over an incredible four or five decades. Sadly, though, the inescapable conclusion which I reached is that most of the best of his body of work came earlier. It would be unfair of us to expect every album to be an Innerisions or a S.I.T.K.O.L. It is kinda sad, though to listen and learn that he has not come up much of late which is as good as the music of the sixties and seventies.
It is a great set by any standards. Unless your library has each and every Stevie Wonder album, this is a worthwhile purchase.