Almost two years ago over on the Blogspot portion of the internet, I gave a brief review of Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale, with all the biographical information if you will.
This afternoon while relaxing at home and zoning out, I decided to go through FFF because I hadn’t listened to it in a good while. That’s when I came to the realization of how great this album was and how it gets lost in the other gems of Stevie’s “Classic Period.”
Just to recap with a bit of history: This was Stevie’s first album after the accident that almost killed him a year prior. It would turn out to be his last album with Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil presiding over synth programming (They would go on to work with the Isley Brothers and have their own experiemental group/machine, TONTO). And more commonly known, it was the album the preceeded his 1976 smash, Songs In The Key Of Life. Fulfilligness, although a Grammy winner for Album of the year like Innervisions and Talking Book before it, was a decidedly DARKER album than anything Stevie did before or has done since. It’s a meditation on life after near death. Every human emotion possible is captured as album, every subject broached with just the right amount of urgency but never to the point of whiny or being a downer – And Steve remained hopeful through it all. Now that you have the background, let’s get into track by track analysis of what makes this album great.
Smile Please – Really simple way to start off an album that was rather introspective, does a phenomenal job of setting the tone of what the next ten tracks are going to be about. Yes, life is gonna suck, there will be sadness, but you should always find a reason to smile through it all.
Heaven is 10 zillion light years away – This is in my Stevie top 10 because it speaks to me as someone who doesn’t consider himself religious at all, but believes that a greater spiritual force is out there. Moreso than a religious song, it’s also about basic human rights and the respect man should show for one another regardless of race. According to Stevie, that spiritual force loves us all, so why don’t we think of each other on the same level? Good question.
Too Shy To Say – This song almost got me all messed up in the game six years ago at Delaware State University. This is when that last little bit of naievete was holding on for dear life and I thought it was cool to lust after a woman and never tell her. Come to find out babygirl would’ve given me the time of day if I had said something. Life’s funny ain’t it? Anyway, as usual, Stevie’s romantic wanting is only trumped by that of Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr., and even then, Stevie still manages to want without seeming totally desperate.
Boogie On Reggae Woman – Every artist has to have something for the radio and naturally, this was a perfect commercial single. While a reggae beat is totally absent, the Moog bass and one sick harmonica solo carries this song and includes rather racy (for Stevie anyway) lyrics of wishing to see this woman nude and knocking boots til the octaves go up a bit.
Creepin’ – Spaceous, sophisticated instrumentation. Simple but meaningful and sweet lyrics. Yep, sounds like a Stevie ballad to me. Also sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship/relationship, commonly known as the honeymoon stage.
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Now ish gets real – The Watergate walls were closing in (or by the single’s release date had already closed) on Richard Nixon and Stevie angrily took Nixon to task with sweet assistance from the Jackson Five in the background along with hard-hitting drums and more masterful synth play.
It Ain’t No Use – We’ve covered the honeymoon stage, now here comes the divorce-in-progress. To me, this song is more about the the background singers. This incarnation of Wonderlove included Lani Groves, an on-the-rise Minnie Riperton and a soon-to-be-rising Deniece Williams. Stevie knew how to pick everybody he’s ever worked with.
They Won’t Go When I Go – Remember I said earlier that this album was a meditation of life after near death? Welp. This song tells you all you need to know about how Stevie was feeling at the time. Also, if you watched him perform this song at Michael Jackson’s funeral, you’ll understand me when I say that this was the perfect eulogy for the King of Pop.
Bird of Beauty – Neat little syncopated shuffle that you can get your salsa on to (In fact, Stevie sings a verse in Portuguese). It’s pretty much a song imploring listeners not to get high off drugs, but life. Bird of beauty is the airplane that will take you anywhere you want to go, more so than “Red, white and yellow pills.”
Please Don’t Go – The album ends with one of the most upbeat “Please baby, baby please” songs ever and the album’s most simple in terms of instrumention – except for a soft synth bass in the beginning, this is all piano/acoustic guitar/drums and the harmonica of heaven. Even when a relationship seems on the verge of dissolving, Stevie keeps hope alive. Again, the primary theme for what on the surface appears to be a dark album.