Sunday, September 13, 2015

Stevie Wonder - In Square Circle

Today (September 13th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of In Square Circle, the twentieth studio album from Motown legend Stevie Wonder. This multi-Platinum 1985 release rose to number 16 in the Netherlands, number 12 in Austria, number 11 in France, number 8 in Australia and Germany, number 7 in Canada and New Zealand, number 5 on the US Billboard Album chart (with a fifty week total chart run) and in the UK, number 4 in Switzerland, number 3 in Italy, Norway and Japan, number 2 in Sweden, and number 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

Side one opens with "Part-Time Lover", a single which hit number 1 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard R&B, the Billboard Adult Contemporary and the Billboard Dance charts. It also went to number 17 in the Netherlands, number 12 in Germany, number 5 in Switzerland, number 3 in the UK, and number 1 in Belgium, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. Luther Vandross provided backing vocals. The lyrics of this bubbly, up-tempo tune tell of two lovers cheating on their spouses (and apparently they aren’t the only ones doing so). I really like the opening hook of this hit; its bopping-along groove puts me in a very good mood whenever I hear it. I quickly find myself singing right along.

The dance beats continue with the next track "I Love You Too Much". The synth-syncopation was a very common element in mid-80’s R&B, but Wonder puts his signature spin on it.

Things slow down with "Whereabouts", a solemn ode to a missing loved one as a man tries to cope with the loneliness of the situation.

"Stranger on the Shore of Love" hit number 55 in the UK as a single. I like the Caribbean musical elements that are sprinkled in with the swaying melody of this song about cautious approaching new love.

The percussion on "Never in Your Sun" is very enticing; it hooked me right from the get go. The rest of the song is quite layered, giving the listener a lot to enjoy. We also get Wonder’s first harmonica solo of the record.

Side two starts with "Spiritual Walkers", another piece with compound percussion. I found the beats to be very infectious; it quickly became my favorite of the deep cuts on the album. This one comments on people who go out of their way to express their religious beliefs to others.

"Land of La La", released as the fourth single, stalled at number 86 on the US Billboard Hot 100 but peaked at number 19 on the US Billboard R&B chart. I don’t remember this one from my radio listening days. With its synth sounds, I think this commentary on Los Angeles might have been better received a couple years prior. It reminds me a little bit of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”.

"Go Home", the second single, reached number 67 in the UK, number 31 in Canada, number 25 in Belgium, number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 2 on the US Billboard R&B chart, and number 1 on the US Billboard Dance and the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It has probably been over two decades since I last heard this track, and I forgot how much I liked it. The horn arrangement really carries this one a long way for me. And again, Wonder has a way of creating strong character portraits in his lyrics.

The third single "Overjoyed" rose to number 55 in Canada, number 33 in Belgium, number 24 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 17 in the UK, number 10 in Ireland, number 17 in the UK, number 8 on the US Billboard R&B chart and number 1 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This one was a popular slow dance and wedding favorite back in the day. The one thing that always distracts me a bit is the sounds in the background that sounds like large raindrops splashing in puddles; I could have done without those in there.

The album closes with the rousing, high-energy of "It's Wrong (Apartheid)". At close to seven minutes in length, it is also the album’s longest track. That allows for a lot of African tribal rhythms as well as a chorus in one of the region’s native tongues. It has a great message of protest delivered in a very welcoming way.

This was my first spin all the way through In Square Circle. I found it rather interesting that the second side of the album contained three of the four singles; usually albums have the stronger tracks on the first side and trail off on the back end. I knew the hits from back in the day, but the album was not one I picked up. I very much enjoyed listening to it and will likely revisit it again in the future.

For more from Stevie Wonder, click here.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I could listen to "Overjoyed" all day and never get tired of it. My cassette of this album got plenty of laying time back in 85 and 86.