Sufjan is Not Boring
Stephen Thomas Erlewine made quite a stir with his article, "A Case Against Sufjan Stevens," (which I could only find cached on Google). His case was that Sufjan, hero of all indie, is basically boring, overgrown nerdy teenager. (Click here to find the song.)
His pretension -- his convoluted song titles, his cloying song about Saul Bellow, his adolescent fascination with John Wayne Gacy, Jr. -- all comes across like a precocious high school student in his senior year, where he's smug enough to want to prove that he's smarter than the rest of the school. Appropriately, his lyrics often read like the work of a gifted but sheltered high schooler, and his music sounds like a drama student's idea of a pop opera -- and it's all wrapped up on albums with stylized childish artwork, hand-drawn pictures that inadvertently wind up enforcing the impression that Stevens is an overgrown teenager.
Erlewine intertwined in his bile only one point that resonated for me:
Because, apart from the conceit of writing songs about a particular state, there isn't much connection to the sound or feel of the state in question. Stevens never taps into the musical history of a state -- never touching Chicago blues or jazz, or Michigan soul or rock.
But like everything Erlewine criticizes Sufjan for, it’s a stylistic choice.
It’s easy to say someone is no Brian Wilson, Elliott Smith or Randy Newman. But by assume that his opinion is so valid that should replace what he sees as popular consensus, Erlewine slips into the nerdish, told-you-so antics he claims ruins Sufjan’s work.
Anyway, like my old hypnosis tape always said, the critic says more about himself than that which he is criticizing.
Here, in the only real way the argument can be made, I’m going to prove that Sufjan is not boring with a song. His cover of “What Goes On” by the Beatles. To me it is the most interesting cover of a Beatles song by a non-Jazz artist that I’ve ever heard.