In Square Circle

Stevie Wonder

Motown Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Stevie Wonder is one of my all-time favorite singers. His voice is so rich with personality that as soon as you hear it, you know its Stevie Wonder. Over the years, he has enjoyed some incredibly prolific and successful periods as well as a few dips in both creativity and popularity, but for the most part, his catalogue is loaded with some of the best soul/R&B/pop music one could ever wish to hear. Stevie is one of many artists who had great success during the ‘60s and ‘70s who found it a little hard to keep the creative juices flowing during the sheer madness of the excessive 1980’s.

As the sound of the day moved through disco into punk then New Wave and finally into the synth-happy, multi-layered, sax-solo abusing tones of the “mainstream,” many struggled with what to make of it, and when MTV finally exploded, some threw in the towel altogether. Others, however, tried to embrace the new decade with open arms and open minds and began tinkering with the new state of the art machinery and Stevie Wonder was one of them. He began the decade with the stellar set from 1980 my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Hotter Than July, which spawned the classics “Master Blaster (Jamin’) and “Lately,” the latter remaining to this day one of his most beautiful ballads.

Following that was the patchy soundtrack to Gene Wilder’s underrated 1984 comedy The Woman In Red, for which Stevie penned the sappiest ballad of the ’80s, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” The next year Wonder released his twentieth studio LP, In Square Circle, which gave him a few more hit singles but also saw the completion of his embracing of the sounds of the decade. This disc is awash with synth-laden tracks driven by punchy drum machines and percussive jabs at the keys that haven’t aged that well but are still reasonably fun enough for me to give this disc a spin every now and then.

Produced as usual by the man himself, this set moves through familiar themes of love, spirituality, and social conscientiousness. The disc opens with the funky but very wordy “Part Time Lover,” which was a big hit and sports one of Wonder’s most fun lyrics to date. “Go Home” also hit the charts running and remains a fine example of an 80’s R&B dance track. “Overjoyed” is the album’s strongest ballad and Wonder delivered another beautiful vocal performance to add to his collection. “Spiritual Walkers” finds Stevie taking his synth-happy dance tones into church as he delivers a snappy sermon to give the album some weight, annoying backing vocals aside.

Songs like “I Love You Too Much” and “Land Of La La” sound dated and flat although the latter is chipper enough to keeps things ticking over well enough. “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)” musically sounds a little like Donna Summer’s classic “I Feel Love,” but lyrically it covers little ground except for stating the obvious.

Overall, In Square Circle is not one of Stevie Wonder’s best efforts but it’s a product of its time and contains his last chart topping-single to date, the exuberant “Part Time Lover.”

Rating: B-

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