B100: #67 “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens Illinoise

Time to drive to “Chicago” in my B100 top songs list and enjoy some sumptuous chamber pop by Sufjan Stevens.

“Chicago” can be found on Sufjan Stevens’ ambitious 2005 masterpiece “Illinois”, a concept album with all songs related to the titular State.  Following 2003’s similarly themed “Michigan”, Sufjan Stevens claimed that both LPs formed part of his Fifty States Project, an endeavour to release a record about each of the 50 states in the USA, later revealed to be a promotional gimmick not a true (and seemingly never-ending!) masterplan.  “Illinois” itself is a hugely varied album both sonically and lyrically, touching on themes as diverse as UFO sightings, personal reminiscences, Superman and the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, all with an Illinois connection.  Musically, the album is beautifully orchestrated and hugely diverse; featuring quiet acoustic ballads and short instrumental sequences alongside exuberant pop anthems such as “Chicago” itself.

Sufjan Stevens photo 1

“Chicago” is the semi-autobiographical tale of a young man on his way to the urban sprawl of the USA’s “Second City”, a narrower topic than many tackled on the epic “Illinois”.  However, its dramatic and beautiful musical stylings – coupled with a winningly yearning tune – elevate “Chicago” to become the album’s highlight and a frequent set closer at Sufjan Stevens’ gigs.  Stevens’ live shows around this time were suitably elaborate, having personally caught him playing the Barbican in 2006 when up to about 40 people on stage helped to bring these complex arrangements joyously to life.

Sufjan Stevens photo 2

With the Fifty States Project concept ultimately a false marker regarding his future output, Sufjan Stevens’ releases since “Illinois” have been suitably eclectic but none have left anywhere as big an impression on me, albeit 2015’s restrained “Carrie And Lowell” in particular has its fans.  Constantly seeking to not repeat oneself is of course admirable, but the fact that the Sufjan Stevens album released directly after “Illinois” was “The Avalanche”, 21 “outtakes and extras from the Illinois album” perhaps helps to confirm that “Illinois” will remain a career highpoint, no bad thing for such a constantly beguiling record.


Sufjan Stevens Barbican

Ticket stub from the excellent Barbican concert, 2006


2 thoughts on “B100: #67 “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens

  1. Pingback: B100: #66 “Afro” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

  2. Pingback: Jumping Fences To Wichita: my 100 favourite songs | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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