After the excellent sideline of Seven Swans, Stevens moved one state south of Michigan to Illinois. While the two albums are similar is style, this time around it’s a lot more confident, and the more overblown pieces come alive in a way that their counterparts on Michigan never did. Stylistically, Illinois covers similar ground to Michigan, although it’s infused with touches of Chicago jazz, giving the state its own sense of musical identity. Despite a seventy five minute running time there’s little that needs cutting, only tailing off right at the end with a couple of experimental instrumentals, but after seventy minutes of unmitigated entertainment it’s difficult to begrudge them.
Among the introspective material, highlights include the charming piano opener ‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’, the paean to one of Illinois’ most notorious citizen’s ‘John Wayne Gacy’ (with the perceptive line “in my best behavior I am really just like him/Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid”) and the honest ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, which throws around questions of inter-connected suffering, spirituality and sexuality, raising more questions than it answers. ‘Decatur’ pulls out a myriad of amusing rhymes (emancipator, alligator, debater, and aviator) and the peppy, breezy ‘Jacksonville’. Among the epics, ‘They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!’ is the standout, a string laden groove, while ‘The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Heart’ alternates between abrasive guitar and soothing balladry.
Illinois is terrific song-writing topped off by creative arrangements.