The two and a bit minutes opening Stevens’ first album of originals since 2005 is a reminder on how much we have missed the man. Sure – it is a simple ditty, but his voice, melodic signature and effortless melancholy soon erase the long wait he has put us through. Yet don’t get too comfortable, the welcome back party is far from the cosy soirée you may have been expecting. The electronic overdrive that is ‘Too Much’ claps, cracks and smacks you in the face with its pulsing machines and squelching effects; it was not quite what we had in mind, but with a memorable hook-line and flurry of ideas, Bowlegs is not complaining.
Sufjan has always had idea overload, his ambitious nature ably crossing from mind to tape. Yet as the title track thrusts a flurry of brass, choral harmonies, crashing synths and hectic rhythms into your eardrums it can become a little hard to grapple. This is the most electronic the musician has been, a polar opposite to the guitar ridden and long gone ‘Seven Swans’ and far distance from ‘Illinois’. It is also, at times, some of the most inspirational material we have heard from the artist. The glorious ‘Now that I am Older’ is an angelic swept piece of floating emotion –percussion-less with swelled strings and layered voices, it is an other-wordly piece. The analogue electro of ‘Get Real Get Right’ on the other hand drops a host of classical instrumentation with slightly awkward results; it sums up a very crowded and relentless record.
Bowlegs was mostly baffled in a good way but continually yearned for more sweet melody and a filtering down on the crazed synthetics. At a fair old length, yet only eleven numbers, each track is an ambush on the eardrums. The quieter moments may sound all the more sweet because of such mayhem; album closer ‘Impossible Soul’ is a robotic piece of heartfelt song-writing as good as anything we have heard from Stevens, yet it twists and turns for some 25 minutes in exhausting fashion. This is artisitic excess conveyed through drum machines, synths and of course the mind of Sufjan Stevens. WB