Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)
To characterize 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale as the least of Wonder’s albums during his magical run between 1972 and 1976 is to damn it with the strongest possible praise. For just about any artist in the R&B field and otherwise, this would constitute a landmark achievement. For Wonder, operating at the peak of his powers, it is merely a collection of affecting ballads and appealing soul workouts that fails to push boundaries and challenge assumptions like the contemporaneous Talking Book or Innervisions. Opener “Smile Please” is an appealingly stoned sounding love letter to hippie ideals, while “Boogie On A Reggae Woman” sets a soul groove to island concerns, anticipating the commercial prominence of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other Jamaican stars on the rise. Later, the inescapable, horn flecked anti-Nixon exercise “You Ain’t Done Nothing” is impactful both in its intensity and the sadness of its naiveté. Few could have anticipated that the humiliated Nixon would be replaced by far more damaging and conservative alternatives. Ironically, Fulfillingness’ First Finale is likewise Wonder’s first, subtle gesture towards the musical conservatism which would come to compromise too much of his later output.