Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants (1979)

Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants (1979)

After the critical and financial success of Songs In The Key Of Life, it seemed as if there was nothing that could stop the genius auteur hitmaker. So by all means the commensurate gesture would be to release a near 90-minute, mostly instrumental soundtrack to accompany the trippy documentary Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants as a follow up. This isn’t to say it was a bad idea, just an odd one. When experienced alongside the film, the soundtrack works like gangbusters, but as a standalone sensation, it mostly feels like Stevie indulging his most experimental notions, which involves a lot of synths, and sounds a lot like new-age music. There are so many good ideas here though, that it’s hard to just cast aside as worthless. The funky, harmonica-driven “The First Garden” actually feels like it’s going somewhere interesting (in the film it is accompanied by some amusing time-lapse photography of primordial ooze getting relatively antic) until it descends into lysergic weirdness. Ditto that “Race Babbling” which has a lot of the DNA for a floor-filling club banger. Wonder’s vocal performances on tracks like “Same Old Story” and “Black Orchid” are uniformly excellent, even if the lyrical content is mostly stuff along the lines of “For most felt it was mad to conceive/ That plants thought, felt and moved like we/ But with instruments Bose would devise/ Would take science itself by surprise, so.” Okay, so, yeah, if you’re not watching the movie, it’s definitely peculiar. If you’re watching the movie, it’s still peculiar, but makes a little more sense. Still and even, it speaks more to the genius of Wonder to elect to explore the possibilities of sound and composition outside of the context of a typical LP of the sort he had been making for nearly twenty years.

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