Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rolling Stone adds to the Illinoise

Well, it's official. Sufjan Stevens is no longer the exclusive property of music geeks and indie purists. His latest and greatest album, Illinois, has won itself a 4-star review in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. Say what you will about the magazine-- like, say that it's completely ridiculous and devoid of any kind of substantial music criticism-- but one has to admit that, when you're the lead review in the world's most popular music magazine-- and it's a 4-star rave-- you've arrived.

Rob Sheffield's review is mostly well done. He totally nails my favorite song on the record:

"Casimir Pulaski Day" is a monstrously sad acoustic ballad about a friend dying
of cancer and leaving a lot of painful spiritual questions behind. The singer
prays for his friend, but his friend dies anyway; the singer is too young and
scared to ask God why, so the trumpet solo has to ask.

But, in the last paragraph, I think Sheffield's mind suddenly turns to pudding. For instance, what's up with this criticism?

Illinois has some of the pitfalls you expect from literary
singer-songwriter albums. Flute solos, for one thing.

Um, what's wrong with flute solos? Granted, the flute players in my high school marching band tended to a little squeaky, but the woodwinds on Illinois are uniformly beautiful. Sheffield talks like there's something inherently wrong with them... perhaps he had a bad experience with a flute before?

His most nonsensical complaint, however, is this one:

For another, there's the inevitable song about the serial killer who
dresses up as a clown, which symbolizes nothing about American life except the
existence of creative-writing workshops.

Uh... the inevitable song about a serial killer who dresses up as a clown? What other albums have such a song?!? For one thing, the song is based on real-life events, and Sufjan's lyrics are remarkable in their detail and the ammount of research that obviously went into the writing. For another thing, the song adds so much more to the lyrical fabric of the album than Sheffield gives it credit for; indeed, it's final verse is as chilling and as convicting as any lyric I've heard all year.


Anonymous zalm said...

That last paragraph is certainly bizarre, for all the reasons you enumerate.

Then again, in the same paragraph he also nails what is still my favorite, musically: "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!"

So he's got that going for him...

Thanks for the heads up.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Douglas Witmer said...

You know, I think Gacy is the weakest cut on the record. It was disappointing to hear Sufjan go for the morality tale in the last verse...too easy, and unlike him to do that.

I like to start the album in Chicago and go from there. I find it a complete statement. The first couple of songs sort of putter, even though I LUV the one about Carl Sandberg.

10:02 PM  

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