mon 22/07/2024

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Javelin | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

Exquisite songs of love and pain

Album cover with collage by the artist

Sufjan Stevens, so we’ve heard, has just been struck down with a rare and immobilising disease – the Guillain-Barré syndrome. With characteristic courage and faith, he has thrown himself into physical rehabilitation. That he should be so reduced and challenged with suffering resonates perhaps with the extraordinary vulnerability that distinguishes his work – a unique avalanche of remarkable albums, generous and brave collaborations.

Stevens is among the mean of his generation who find strength in opening their hearts, singing in a high register close to falsetto, and risking the pain that accompanies love, rather than pumping vocal and instrumental iron, with displays of alpha male behaviour and virtuosic display.  The new album, in a style that expresses, as previous work, a raw and delicate sensitivity that makes Stevens instantly recognisable, is a jewel.

There are, as usual, a few moments of pure pop symphony, with distant but definite echoes of Phil Spector’s reverb-laden orchestral excesses, but beyond the opening track “Goodbye Evergreen" which starts gentle as can be and crashes into sufjanesque splendour, the tone is gentle – with a seductive combination of feelgood joy and more soulful melancholy. In the richly illustrated 40-page album that accompanies Javelin (Stevens is a master of collage and painting) there is a wonderful chronicle of the artist’s loves from the first teen glimmer until the present. He writes (beautifully) of a “distant and divine voice” and “the music of the spheres”. A Christian who never preaches, Sufjan Stevens’s lyrics and music always stay close to the spiritual.

Whether accompanied by the delicate and liquid sound of the banjo or the soft tones of a nylon-string acoustic guitar, Sufjan Stevens voice, hovers on the edge of excessive emotion, but never tumbles into drama queen kitsch. The song “Genuflecting Ghost” is almost unbearably touching: love and devotion, opening oneself to the risk of losing everything through passion – call it surrender – this is what Javelin is all about. Men singing high is a sign of the times – the antidote to centuries of patriarchy. This is as good an album as Stevens has ever made, perhaps even the best.

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