Picks and Pans Review: Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants

updated 01/07/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/07/1980 01:00AM

Stevie Wonder

It would be easy for fans of Wonder's tuneful, buoyant pop music to back away from this double LP. Don't. It will, as any plant lover knows, root itself if given enough time. There are, for instance, long, slow-developing instrumental sections with a dense, often perplexing structure. They may seem self-indulgent at first and, true, nobody can dance to them. But the careful listener will revel in Wonder's genius for welding idiosyncratic melodic structures and complex texture. He plays the tabla, a Hindu drum, on Voyage to India, a mini-raga with Ben Bridges on sitar; then on the beautiful ballad Black Orchid, he mimics perfectly a folkie-acoustic guitar. On other cuts, Wonder layers several harmonic vocals behind his own lead on Outside My Window, while Ecclesiastes is a church-organ hymn with an other-worldly synthesizer arrangement. His lyricism is, as usual, sunny and childlike—at its worst it is awkwardly cliched ("She has touched the farthest star/Her beauty speaks of what we are"). Much, though, is simply pretty: "A flake of snow within a storm/A new way waiting to be born." And there are two hard-core R & B numbers: A Seed's a Star rumbles along and Race Babbling is a nine-minute trance dance with enough musicality to blow away the rest of the disco industry. In sum, Wonder again puts everybody else in pop in his or her place with this extraordinary album.

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