Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (2/5)
When I first threw Illinoise into my CD player it took me a couple of songs to form a reaction: wow...this is really bad. By the time I bought the CD Sufjan Stevens had received an ungodly amount of hype, and I was ready to sit back like in those decade old commercials and be blown away by my audio equipment. Too bad Illinoise wasn't up to the task.
The first thing I noticed about the album is how the production makes much of it sound limp. The production reminds me of a Coldplay album where the songs have their rough edges sanded down. If you're going to make use of this many instruments, then I want to be reminded of Mahler and Prokofiev not Chris Martin.
While there are a couple of standouts (I recommend downloading "Chicago") there's just not enough high points in the twenty-two tracks to recommend the album. The lyrics are too often overtly self-conscious and overwrought. One of the worst offenders is "John Wayne Gacy Jr." The idea itself is interesting: try and create sympathy for someone who has committed atrocious acts. However, Sufjan isn't clever enough to pull this off in a three minute pop song. When talking about Gacy's victims he directs a hushed "Are you one of them?" at the listener. The results are laughable at best. Imagine the following line delivered with utmost earnestness and a fist clutched to the singer's heart (at least that's how I picture it) and you'll get an idea at how ridiculous his songs can be: "And in my best behavior/ I am really just like him/ Look beneath the floorboards/ For the secrets I have hid." Trying to create a sense of connection and empathy with a monster is an interesting idea, but Sufjan Stevens just can't do it without being overly sappy.
The amount of hype this album has gotten insures that Sufjan will have a few more albums critics can overhype and then forget. I'm just hoping that he gives the whole state theme up before he reaches my home state of Ohio. If you screw that one up Sufjan, then don't expect us to go easy on you.