When I wrote about Sufjan Stevens' later album Seven Swans, Shinsplints commented that I should also try Greetings From Michigan. I was very sceptical that I was going to like it as much as Seven Swans — which I love with a passion — but I was curious to see what it was like.
I've now listened to the album about three times in less than 24 hours, and I'm completely captivated. It has all the delicacy of his next album, but also a sense of loss, alienation and the slow decline of a once-great State. I'm sure that I've just made it sound depressing, but it's anything but that. Even in the most quietly despairing songs, there's a tiny hope that things might get better, and also that there are people around who care. From 'For The Windows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilani':
I was dressed in embarrassment I was dressed in wine. If you had a part of me, will you take your time? Even if I come back, even if I die Is there some idea to replace my life? Like a father to impress; Like a mother's mourning dress If you ever make a mess, I'll do anything for you.
Sufjan has a kind of quiet rhetorical fire, even though that seems like a contradiction. Actually, I think he is a contradiction. Many of the titles — such as 'Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head (Restore! Rebuild! Reconsider!)' — read like the exhortations of a 1950s union leader, or one of the earnest, burning people who rage against the dying of the light at Speaker's Corner in the rain.
I would find it almost impossible to single out a few tracks for special mention — they are all so strong. 'The Upper Peninsula' features a wonderful Hammond organ going on in the background and lyrics about the poor of America ("I live in America/with a pair of Payless shoes". 'They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black' has a really odd time-signature, which reminds me a little of some of the work of Lalo Schifrin. It does amazing and beneficial things to my neurons, simultaneously lulling me and waking me up.
It's a really superb album, and I highly recommend it, whether you have heard any of his work before or not.