Picks and Pans Review: Characters

updated 01/11/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/11/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Stevie Wonder

Wonder has made so much memorable music for so long (nearly 27 years) that at this point his records are often—and not always unfairly—regarded as merely bits of lagniappe, trivial morsels tossed to a hopelessly adoring public. But Characters is nobody's trifle. It's clearly Stevie's best record since Hotter Than July in 1980, perhaps his best since Songs in the Key of Life in 1976. Part of its appeal lies in the relaxed character of the music, both gracious and unassuming. From the lustrous, samba-tinged ballad You Will Know to the spanking funk of Skeletons, Wonder goes right to the essence of each song without any show-boating. On With Each Beat of My Heart he manages to be sentimental without being sappy, a feat that has often eluded him of late. Even the odd uninspired composition, such as In Your Corner, sounds fine by virtue of its simplicity. Then of course there's that voice, which is still the most limber and expressive in popular music. Unlike some of Stevie's recent work, Characters isn't just powdery icing. It's a rich layer cake. (Motown)

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