Monday, December 04, 2006

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 28

Sit down, Marvel Comics, it's different designs this time

For most people, an out-takes album - and out-takes from one album, mark you - would be an unnecessary add-on, the runt of the discography litter that might as well be rubber stamped For Completists Only at the pressing plant. Sufjan Stevens is not most people. Illinois - number two in our UK blogger album of the year poll, Metacritic's highest averaging album of 2005 - is a work that has only grown since release, painting a picture of its histories and lifestyles that for all we know could be horribly idealised, although that seems unlikely on the face of it, but the palette and emotions used and expressed brought at least this idea of it to vivid life with a universality. That's why an album of offcuts from that album's sessions isn't such a bad thing after all, although three versions of Chicago is just pushing his luck a tad.

Inevitably it doesn't hang together as well as the parent album does, but leaving it for the deluxe double CD reissue should never have been on the cards. Indeed, it's hard to see what was so wrong as such with the questing Adlai Stevenson, the folky street party of Carlyle Lake or the deeply personal The Mistress Witch From McClure other than the songs already on Illinois were by and large so excellent. In fact, some of the time it's not that the songs don't fit the pattern of the loosely defined state travelogue but they don't fit the pattern of a normal Sufjan Stevens album track, such as the sudden influx of wonky blues riffage in the middle of Springfield, the decidedly odd Dear Mr Supercomputer, which sounds like a studio invasion from Neil Young's notorious Trans, or For Clyde Tombaugh, which inaugurates Sufjan - The Windows Vista Era Philip Glass Years. There's still the varispeed sequencing, the instrumental filler - this is still that concept that Stevens would doubtless love to be seen as the grand continuer of, the album that deserves to be played right through - and the marching bands, but beyond all the very likely bells and whistles it's still blatantly obvious that Stevens knows the ways and means of the heart. None of his work is autobiographical, it's just often it can't help making such.

LISTEN ON: Springfield
WATCH ON: Chicago live in San Francisco; now you can play the title track too
READ ON: Stevens tells Pitchfork that it actually probably wasn't worth releasing. Oh, cheers.

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