After listening to Talking Book for the first time the only thing I wanted to do was listen to ‘Ghetto Woman’ by Janelle Monae on her recent album The Electric Lady. In fact, so great is the funk influence that I could feel from Stevie Wonder on Talking Book that I did listen to her for the next hour before circling back to this album.
It’s one of those weird musical things where a name (and a look) becomes so recognisable but you may have never listened to a song by that person. I know I have heard covers of Stevie Wonder songs. I know I have heard that awful duet he did with Blue back in 2003 (holy crap, 12 years ago).
Anyway, Talking Book is chronologically the first of three albums to appear in this list of 250. An album that is marked by musical historians as the start of his ‘classic’ period and as a crossover landmark record for funk and soul. It boasts a large number of songs that are well known to most people. I remember my mum singing ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ to me when I was really young, so no matter how sweet the song is (which walks the tightrope of being really good without toppling over into being saccharin) it was able to bring a smile to my face…even when I was lodging complaints with Royal Mail over an undelivered Christmas present.
The with this album is that is pretty much all about love (even if the synths on ‘You and I get a little bit distracting). He spends the whole album veering between being besotted and being heartbroken without breaking a sweat. Most people will know the lead single ‘Superstition’, it is one of his best known songs. It illustrates, in a nutshell, that how the quality of his songs that deal with the darker side of love is higher that the fluffier ones… or am I just a cynic?
My main issue with the album is with a song that many people on the internet seem to love: the closer I Believe ‘(When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)’. I have had that moment when I have fallen in love and everything is sunshine and puppies. In fact Nellie McKay’s cover of ‘Wonderful Guy‘ served as the theme music to that. However, it feels to me like a fairly middling Eurovision-style song. Which is a pity, especially since the whole album leading up to that point is so good.