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Sufjan Stevens - It's a wonderful life,
This review is from: Silver and Gold: Songs for Christmas - Volumes 6 - 10 (Audio CD)
Finally ploughing through the four discs of Sufjan Stevens new Christmas album "Sliver and Gold" is the musical equivalent of watching "It's a Wonderful Life". It is a multilayered work containing equal measures of whimsy, sentimentality and deep dense beauty. Followers of Stevens have been here before of course. Many of his albums such as "Seven Swans" have a very wintery sheen about them and no one does Christmas like Sufjan Stevens. In "Silver and Gold" he releases a three hour long, 59 track extravaganza as a tinsel tinged follow-up to 2006's 42-song-long "Songs for Christmas" collection. In reality Sufjan is somewhat ambiguous about the joys of the season describing the Christmas Tree as "nothing more than a symbol of environmental bondage". He has also recently raged against the avalanche of consumerism that engulfs December 25th. Whether or not he is trying to deconstruct the whole festive season is a moot point since these Scrooge like instincts are tempered in his work by the undoubted magic of the season, its sparkle and goodwill. As he states in the booklet attached to this Xmas marathon "Christmas is what you make of it, and its songs reflect mystery and magic as expertly as they clatter and clang with the most audacious and rambunctious intonations of irreverence." Speaking of which you could download the horrible roboticized version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" which goes on forever like a rancid turkey in the microwave. You could also get a interesting cover of Prince's "Alphabet Street" which is very well done although quite what its connection is to Christmas is a matter for a detective with the skills of Sherlock Homes to solve.
There are of course plenty of traditional Christmas songs here including "An Age of Adz" style version of "Good King Wenceslas", a joyous MOR version of "Sleigh Ride" and a 52 second version of "We three kings" which sounds like it is being played at a school carol concert. None of these really match Stevens best ever traditional version of a Christmas standard the brilliant "Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel" on "Songs for Christmas" which is a pure joy, but collectively they are great fun. And yet this is Sufjan Stevens and hidden amongst this wealth of material are plenty of new tracks not least "Carol of St. Benjamin The Bearded One" which takes the traditional "Carol of Bells" and mutates it into a achingly beautiful Stevens song which is worth the price of admission to the whole box set (for info this review of of the twelve quid download version). Equally tracks like "Barcarola", "Justice delivers it death" and especially the bubbling "Christmas in the room" are up there with his very best. The latter is a beautiful little love song and if there was justice in the world it would kick the wretched Slade and George Michael off the Christmas jukebox with a firm boot up the backside. In a direct message to a partner he speaks tenderly of "No travel plans, no shopping malls/ No candy canes or Santa Claus/For as the day of rest draws near/It's just the two of us this year".
The whole feast of Xmas indulgence ends with the 12 minute "Christmas Unicorn" which sees Stevens sing the words of Ian Curtis and make them work wonderfully in this setting. At the this point the listener has travelled a very long journey which has had many peaks of snowy beauty but also had to endure some dark brown slush along the the way. But that is the point for Sufjan Stevens good, bad or indifferent is about 100% more interesting than most other artists today and "Silver and Gold" is a delight.