Review Summary: Because this fad is way too priceless not to carry on.
In 2005 Sufjan Stevens released Illinois to critical acclaim. I know, that opening sentence constitutes a "no *** sherlock." But it's true regardless. Critics absolutely slobbered over the thing. It was given hundreds of glowing reviews, put on every end of the year list, and I'm pretty sure that pitchfork attempted to make there own religion based off it. It is no surprise that we felt like this, nothing like Illinois had been seen for a long time. The blustering "Chicago", the delicate "Casmir Pulaski", the chilly "Seers Tower", the downright 'get the hell away' creepiness of "John Wayne Gayce" and the fabulous romp of "They are Night Zombies!!!!" They were all reasons we were all willing to sell our souls for this C.D, or if not that, at least our wives. It was brilliant. It was majestic, it was how pop music should be done. It was the type of music we haven't seen for years.
Then came the live shows, you know those fun events the whole world wanted to go too but only about 700 actually can because Suffy has big venue phobia, yeah one of those. They were peculiar events, Sufjan dressed up as a butterfly bird, and then broke into a really cool audition of sister (da da da, da da da, da da da da). The performance would of been even better if he wasn't dressed up in an Amish halloween costume. But it was all kind of worth it to see him pull off that mask and view that incredibly adorable
"deer in the headlights" look on his face, and watch him break into Wayne Gracy and Casmir Pulaski. then his cheerleaders got on stage and they started dancing to Illinois, And Sufjan still has that deer in the headlight look, and he's dancing after two songs about cancer and death, and not a single emotional twitch showed on his face while singing any of those two songs, and why didn't he take those wings off yet, and why does this whole performance feel plastic. You can't help but come to a horrid conclusion.
He really isn't feeling any of this, is he?
Sure Illinois was brilliant, but on the side of Sufjan it's evident that it's a soulless work. He was making songs but on crucial cases he wasn't making art, not his art in any case. He was in many ways a great yet shallow story teller, the words were superb, the arrangements ingenious, the awe it provoked priceless. He put everything in illinois but himself. It is no wonder that after the release he went through a creative crisis. It is no wonder that this crisis lead to the Age of Adz.
What Illinois was, Age of Adz isn't. Pitchfork isn't making a religion off this album, not even close.You can't categorize this album as brilliant without categorizing it as insane. It would be majestic, but every time it comes close, it gets slaughtered by the electronic equivilant of the Charles Manson cult, and this is exactly how pop music shouldn't be done. But on all accounts, all of that's alright, because this is the first album in a long time that Sufjan has put his soul into. You can feel it in the closing of "Futile Devices". in the schizo instrumentation of "Too Much". In the heartbreak of "Now That I'm Older" in that really odd part where he starts talking in third person (like a tool) in Vesuvius. And of course the pinnacle, where it all starts pouring out with the 4 words that will be included in every Sufjan review from now until eternity. "I'm not ***ing around" And he's not, he took on this album completely.
And that's why the electronic madness, the auto tune, the eighties dance music, the sensory overload, in many ways is perfect. Because this is what Sufjan looks like when he puts himself into an album, and in that regard it's even more brilliant than Illinois, because isn't just a name engrained on the cover but into the very core of the music itself. And sure it's ironic that his most emotional album has his voice pass through more filters than a coffee machine on loop, but it's not an emotion you can deny. This is Suffy's work of art, his magnum opus, a mirror into his soul. And for that I graciously say
welcome back, Sufjan, welcome back.