Some musicians just like a good concept album. They do. The repeat offenders out there simply can’t stop trying to cram a narrative into a CD or several sides of vinyl (hello Ray Davies, Pete Townshend and, well, any number of death metal artists really).
Others start with a more abstract concept and with all the obsessive compulsion they can muster, somehow manage to spin twenty songs out of it. And this is most definitely where Sufjan Stevens comes in. Schmaltzy Noelaholic Mariah Carey has only managed to squeeze out two volumes of holiday cheer in nearly twenty five years, while Sufjan has managed ten in less than ten.
And then there is his legendary ‘50 State Project’, with each state destined to receive its own tribute in the shapely form of a Sufjan Stevens album. The first ‘Michigan’ presented a suite of songs inspired by people, places and events connected with the state and he continued the formula with ‘Illinois’, lacing it with additional religious and bible themes.
In a 2009 interview in Paste Magazine, the horrible truth came out that ‘the whole premise was such a joke, and I think maybe I took it too seriously’. Speaking about the ‘creative crisis’ that followed Illinois the indie king of concept albums, he admitted ‘I no longer really have faith in the album anymore. I no longer have faith in the song’. He does indeed seem to have abandoned his former concept digging ways, and has diverted most of his recent attentions to making music with alternative hip-hop supergroup Sisyphus.
It’s perhaps understandable how Stevens lost his zeal for the concept album - when you take your concepts that far, burnout at some point seems inevitable. He has left behind the strange legacy of his unfulfilled 50-State Project and, though we know it never will or ever could have been finished, wondering what completion might have been like is too delicious an idea not to entertain.
Some fans still mourn the early truncation of the project - just look at the lovely map above that Jonah Adkins spent three months making as a tribute back in 2012.
Nice Map! & Still Mourning The Early Truncation Of The 50 States Project.
Spring Picture Day
”..Summer ‘88, Or Was It ‘89, Or Was It Wintertime, Ah Never Mind..” #tbt #16aintenough #duckhunt
Why Is This Kid 10 Already?
Some Boy Named ‘Slater’ Gave Claire A Valentine’s Bear #areyouseriousbro (at Yates Elementary School)
What’s Up DC! (at Embassy Suites)
Excited To Release An Open #Cartography Project Tomorrow. Built With @esri & @mapbox. Stay Tuned. #gis
A Flock Of Seagulls On Ice At Lake Maury @marinersmuseum (at Lions’s Bridge)