We’re used to Stevie Wonder making us wait for new material, and it’s always worth it. But during the 1980s, he hit a run of productivity that saw him release three new albums, a film soundtrack and a compilation featuring some fresh music, all in the space of seven years. On December 19, 1987, his 21st studio album was reaping rewards: just a week after entering the R&B chart, Characters started a run of seven non-consecutive weeks atop that survey.
The album came little more than two years after Stevie’s 1987 set In Square Circle, which contained the chart-topping “Part Time Lover” and went double platinum in the US alone. Characters got off to a similarly hot preview when its first single “Skeletons” topped the R&B listing.
Any Stevie Wonder album is an event in its own right, of course, but that was the perfect set-up. The new disc, produced as ever by Wonder himself, may not have been as big a crossover pop record as its predecessors, but it went on to generate three Grammy nominations and a second No.1 R&B hit (his 20th in total) in the ballad “You Will Know.” A third, ”Get It,” a duet with Michael Jackson, made the top five of that chart. Although Characters only reached No.17 on the Billboard 200, it went platinum in the US, and gold in the UK and France.
“There are no big surprises here,” wrote the Chicago Tribune of Characters, “just plenty of the polished, assured mix of pop, soul and funk that has kept Wonder on the charts for nearly 25 years.” Added Rolling Stone: “Even if Characters isn’t quite up to the level of Wonder’s best work, it is still an undeniable pleasure to have him communicating his compelling inner visions to the rest of us.”
Buy or stream Characters.