My issue with Stevens is that he tries too damn hard. The album of his I own is 2005’s orgasmically-received Come On Feel the Illinoise!, which was the second entry in his “Fifty State Project,” a plan to write and record an album about each U.S. state. He started with 2003’s Michigan and abandoned the project after Illinois.
Now, I actually think that’s a pretty cool idea, whether he ever actually intended it or not. And I’m not knocking him for his ambition.
However, song titles such as ‘The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!’ and ‘Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, And I Shake the Dirt From My Sandals As I Run’ are a bit much. I do like ‘To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament’ — the title, if not the song — but the whole thing with the too-clever titles makes him come across like an annoying hipster grad student.
And the music… well, the music is mostly just boring. He does a lot of interesting things with strings and horns but to what end? Almost every song on this album feels to me like the introduction to a real batch of songs, but those songs never come. It’s one great big pretentious interlude.
‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ is one of the few proper songs on the album, and it’s a good one. I think I might like Stevens if he settled into more of this Elliott Smith vibe.
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts
When the swingset hit his head
The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
Oh, the dead
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?
He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed
He kissed them all
He’d kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips
Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid