Songs in the Key of Life
Songs in the Key of Life feels the tiniest ounce less inspired than Wonder’s previous two albums, but it’s still an incredible tour de force. It’s amazingly long – clocking in a 1 hour and 45 minutes, it was originally packaged as two full albums with a bonus EP. According to his biography, Wonder’s entourage forced him to ditch his synthesiser engineers Cecil and Margouleff, so he was left to attempt a massive undertaking without a crucial part of his support team. There’s very little filler for a double album – the first album is tangibly stronger than the second, and some of the tracks outstay their welcome, but those are minor quibbles. Like any good double album, there are lots of hidden treasures that only reveal themselves after plenty of listens; ‘Summer Soft’ and ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ are two of my favourite subtler pieces. Wonder covers plenty of stylistic ground; he nails jazz fusion with ‘Contusion’, ‘Easy Goin’ Evening’ is jazzy and relaxed, while ‘Saturn’ rides a gorgeous ascending melody. The singles are also strong, with the upbeat ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘I Wish’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ thrives despite its sentimentality, while Coolio remodelled ‘Pastime Paradise’ into a hit twenty years later. It’s not flawless, but Songs in the Key of Life is an embarrassment of riches.