** STEVIE WONDER, "Conversation Peace" Motown As a veteran artist who's always strived to remain contemporary, Wonder must be somewhat disheartened that just as he's about to put out his first non-soundtrack album in eight years he's resurfaced as part of the nostalgia-driven "old school" radio phenomenon. Unfortunately, not a whole lot on "Conversation Peace" compares favorably to his great oldies.
For more than a decade, Wonder has been stuck in a comfortable but largely uninteresting groove, rarely mustering the seething energy or subtle sexuality that fueled his mid-'70s work. "Cold Chill" comes closest here to capturing both, with Wonder's ever-elastic vocals swirling around a pulsating track. Also, "Rain Your Love Down" demonstrates that he hasn't forgotten how to concoct a hit without resorting to schlock--though the same can't be said for the album's first single, "For Your Love."
As always, Wonder ventures into topicality, tackling hand-gun violence on the affecting, cleverly arranged "My Love Is With You" and, less successfully, homelessness and civic duty in the trite "Take the Time Out."
But a trendy message can't transform an old sound, and too much of this album resonates with been-there-done-that.