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Illinois

Illinois

July 5, 2005
4.4 out of 5 stars 352 customer reviews

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Illinois
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Product Details

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Sufjan Stevens is a puzzling character; sometimes naive, sometimes sophisticated, somewhat rustic and yet essentially urban in outlook. But there a few things he never seems to exhibit: crassness, boredom, or jaded irony. Instead he appears defenseless and in full flower on "Illinois", an album of remarkable breadth, depth and ambition.

It is precisely his lack of sneering superiority that makes "Illinois" such a treat. These lengthy, wordy poem/songs, these complex instrumental arrangements and daunting pop structures could all be so much ego run amok, like a bad progressive rock album. But that doesn't happen. Instead, we are treated to a song cycle so fresh and honest I hardly know where to start.

From the sweet quietness of the opening number (which turns an actual UFO sighting in 2000 into a revelatory experience) to the nearly presumptuous overture that follows, one gets a glimpse of what will follow. Imagery follows tone follows place follows events both personal and public in a seamless fabric. By the time we are through the title cut on track 3, he has already taken us through a small American symphony of ideas. We have wondered about God and aliens, considered the great icons of the state of Illinois, met with the ghost of Carl Sandburg and wondered if we are being honest with our art in the first place; surely one of the most breathtaking 11 minutes I can recall on CD.

The mood is quietly shattered with "John Wayne Gacy Jr.", probably the most haunted song in recent memory. If this one doesn't make you choke a little, check your pulse. By portraying a serial killer as human after all, he draws our attention to the flaws in every heart. He understands that demons have no souls, but people - even mass murderers - do. Watch out.
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Is Sufjan Stevens insane?

"Illinois" is only the second stop on a planned collection of 50 state-themed albums. It's the type of project whose sheer scale and mad ambition boggle the mind, calling forth a number of rhetorical questions: Is he really going to spend the bulk of his career on such a huge project? Given the fact that "Michigan" came out two years ago, shouldn't he pick up the pace a bit? Will he really make a separate album for, say, North and South Dakota?

I hope so.

Illinois is a great album, almost certainly the best of the year so far. It opens with a delicate and beautiful piano track entitled "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois." From there, Stevens criss-crosses the state, heading to Jacksonville, Decatur and Chicago, creating a musical travelogue as thorough as any Rand McNally guidebook.

Importantly, Stevens doesn't spend all his time going from point A to point B; he also stops to get to know people, writing about everyone from John Wayne Gacy to Superman to Abraham Lincoln to Carl Sandburg. Some of the references amount to little more than name-dropping, but the beautiful Superman song and the haunting Gacy track show that, most of the time, Stevens is really trying to understand how a place could be embodied by such disparate characters.

Thematically, too, he covers a lot of ground. "Oh, God of progress, have you degraded or forgot us? Where have your walls gone? I think about it now," he asks in what is probably the only song that will ever be written about the Columbian Exposition of 1893. For good measure, he throws in a little religious imagery later in the album; though his observations here feel a little self-centered and angry, you have to give him credit for honesty and candor.
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Format: Audio CD
I'll admit it, I'm a corporate tool. I bought this album for the sole reason that Amazon named it the top album of 2005. I've been aching to find something new and interesting (my Flogging Molly and Phillip Glass albums were getting worn out). Since I hadn't seen anyone named Sufjan on American Idol, and the album wasn't getting shoved down the throats of us consumers I thought that Amazon may be trying to make a statement for the betterment of music.

Thank Goodness!!

I played it first when leaving town for a 20 hour Thankgiving round trip, I didn't know that it would be the only thing played on the radio the whole trip. While previous review rant about the first couple of tracks, I think they bouced over the truely great tracks. I found "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" as a beautifully contradiction on itself. I told a friend about htis track, and he was shocked I used terms like innocent & lovely on something named after a bug. I love the way "The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" transitions between tempos. But my favorite track is by far "Cashmir Pulaski Day". When I fully understood what Cashmir Pulasky Day was about, I was bought to tears.

Most of the time, music shoved at us doesn't deserve our well earned money. This album is worth a listen. This artist deserves our support. This 50 state concept is a pipedream, but I am glad there are still dreamers in the music industry and if this is the result of dreams then I will keep buying.
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