If you were committed to making at least 50 albums over the course of your career, you might be wise to drop a couple of duds early on so as to lower expectations. But with his second effort in the ambitious and/or completely insane 50 States Project, Sufjan Stevens has managed to top his first geographical offering and set himself some terribly high standards as he winds through his multi-colored political map of the United States.
While Illinois may not be quite as personal as 2003’s Greetings From Michigan, Stevens still bares his skills as both an adept storyteller and library patron. Seeing as how Michigan had the home-field advantage, the Illinois outing comes off feeling slightly more researched and objective. But there are still equally tender moments: ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ waxes eerily sympathetic for the famous serial killer, and ‘Decatur’ shows a child warming up to his step-mom amidst miscellaneous observations like “Stephen A. Douglas was a great debater/Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator!” Even songs devoted to Superman and UFO sightings have a whimsical aesthetic despite their madcap subject matter — probably as much a testament to Stevens’ marching band drum major production as it is to his poetic skill.
Of course, an album alternately titled Come on Feel the Illinoise still has its points of humor: comically long song titles, lots of exclamation points, and a few seven-minute outings that sound like odd-time Brady Bunch hits. But with equal amounts referential silliness and personal character (not to mention the fact that the man actually made an interesting pop album out of the state of Illinois in the first place), the Prairie State couldn’t have asked for better treatment