I've got to admit that at first, Innervisions confused me a little. Not because it's a confusing album itself - not many musicians have a clarity of sound and vision like Stevie does, and this is no different - but because of its reputation. When you've heard a record as blatantly incredible as Songs in the Key of Life, and you then find out that another album by the same person is meant to be even better, how can you not be disappointed when it turns out to not even be in the same league?
But with time, Innervisions just kept growing. I still don't think it's anywhere near Songs, but this is an album with some pretty incredible moments all the same. Two of the highest peaks come in the same places they did on Talking Book, with "Higher Ground" filling the same role that "Superstition" without stealing the show as spectacularly - don't think of that as a weakness, just think of it as "Higher Ground" being more of a team player - and "He's Misstra Know-it-all" ending the record on a more resigned, worldly note than "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)", which is fitting for what comes before it.
But neither of those tracks really define the record, and this period of Stevie's career, quite like "Living for the City". I can't believe I didn't like this song at first - it took a Dirtbombs cover to make me realize how excellent it really is. Snide in delivery, with eyes cast simultaneously on the uselessness of crime and the inevitability of it happening, it manages to sympathize with the protagonist while voicing angry, but futile dissent both toward them, and to the system that made them what they are. Stevie never really got involved in the whole blaxploitation thing, but he didn't need to; this one song says more than some artists did in entire soundtracks. And not just obscure and forgotten artists, either - the list of people Stevie outdoes here includes legends like Marvin Gaye.
Maybe that, ultimately, is why Innervisions simply can't stack up to Songs in the Key of Life. Innverisions has one song that good, maybe two if you stretch to "Higher Ground" as well, while the triple-vinyled masterpiece he'd unleash three years later has at least nine. No matter though - this is a brilliant album in its own right.