Signed at the age tender age of 11, by 1995 Stevie Wonder's career had spanned over 35 years. In a decade dominated by rap and new R&B acts, Stevie had to find his place on urban contemporary radio. While "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and classic albums Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life rested at the tip of our tongues, there was more to be desired from the already-popular artist who had clearly defined the sound of Motown. After teasing a new album for almost four years, the singer, songwriter, record producer and multi-instrumentalist wrote 40 songs, taking his time to package the tracks even though his label slated the release for 1993. Stevie whittled that number down to 13 and turned his slow-cooked baker's dozen into his 22nd album Conversation Peace, released on the Motown label in 1995. The album was Stevie's first full-length non-soundtrack studio album since 1987's Characters and followed his 1991 release Jungle Fever.
With his sound leaning towards more contemporary than classic, Stevie was set to win over fans old and new. Conversation Peace begins with sound effects of rain and lightning to usher in the first track, "Rain Down Your Love." Stevie poured his heart out onto the track and shared his gift of melody within the first few seconds of pressing play. He later kept the groove going with "Edge of Eternity," with harmonies and infectious horns dominating the single riddled with his powerful ad-libs. Known for his beautiful ballads, Stevie dove right in with "Taboo to Love." Often playing a one-man-band, most of the instrumentals, background vocals and mixing was done by Stevie himself, which we can hear on the third single.
With African- inspired instrumentals, Stevie, who often served as a voice for social issues, joined forces with South African a cappella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo on "Take the Time Out." The single discussed homelessness and created an uplifting track about making a difference with the help of some unique instruments and percussion. Stevie explored more international sounds in another upbeat track, "Tomorrow Robins Will Sing," his only reggae-flavored ditty on the album. In his goal to keep up with the trends, Stevie infused his social commentary with hip hop in "My Love Is With You." The song tackled gang violence, which was prevalent in hip hop at the time and added an element of swing that still kept the track upbeat. He also infused hip hop into "Cold Chill," detailing the fine seductiveness of a woman.
With "I'm New," Stevie goes back to singing his signature ballads as he painted the picture of a new love. Featuring Take 6 and Deniece Williams, the group and songstress add beautiful, cascading harmonies to the chorus while Stevie carefully arranges his own melodies across each verse. He used a similar technique in the jazzy "Sensuous Whisper," where he made use of Anita Baker's vocals and played the keys around the sax and trumpet, supplied by Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard, respectively. "Treat Myself" was another careful arrangement of upbeat harmonies and melodies perfect for the sentiment of the track, highlighting Stevie's signature harmonica. Aside from "Tomorrow Robins Will Sing," one of the most popular tracks from the album was "For Your Love." The harmony-packed ballad won two GRAMMY awards for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song.
Conversation Peace received mixed reviews. Though the album featured a more modern Stevie Wonder, it was still reminiscent of his '70s catalogue. His classic and cherished sound was still welcome, but it wasn't trendy enough to get radio play (though obviously good enough to yield GRAMMY wins). Whether Conversation Peace is a favorite or not matters very little since Stevie has recorded more than 30 U.S. top 10 hits, received 25 GRAMMY Awards and has sold over 100 million albums and singles across the world. Stevie — with his harmonies, infectious harmonica and strong vocals that have set the standard for male vocalists and instrumentalists alike — is a staple not only in our hearts but also on our playlists. It's only right that Stevie make his rounds again in 2015, hosting pop-up performances at the age of 65 and reminding us all that his songs in the key of life will forever remain timeless.