I knew going into Carrie and Lowell that I had to set my expectations accordingly. I knew it was going to be better than 2010’s electro circus Age of Adz. And I figured I shouldn’t expect it to compete with how great Michigan, Seven Swans, and Illinoise were.
And that’s more or less exactly how I feel about Carrie and Lowell.
The personal nature of the record is reflected in the melancholy of each song. This isn’t a record about hope. It’s a record written in pain, addiction, and looking for answers. That doesn’t just make Carrie and Lowell a giant downer of a record. Stevens writes with such a lighthearted nature at times that reminisces on happiness.
The simplicity of the music on Carries and Lowell gives space for Stevens’ lyrics to really impact the listener. Death With Dignity drops you right into Sufjan struggling with the loss of his mother and the lack of relationship between them. On Should Have Known Better Stevens is dealing with regret. Regret that he didn’t grieve his mother properly. We hear a sense of betrayal on Drawn To Blood. Eygene is one of those happy memories of summer’s spent with Carrie and Lowell in Oregon before moving to the sad reality of his mother’s depression and Sufjan’s tendency to resort to drinking. Fourth of July is a conversation Stevens had with his mother while she was in the hospital battling cancer.
The Only Thing is Sufan’s feeling of intimacy with his mother after her passing by abusing drugs and alcohol. Her destructive tendencies had become his way of coping with her death. John My Beloved is a song about Stevens’ relationship with God. It’s the asking of forgiveness for his reckless behavior. No Shade In The Shadow of the Cross is another song about Sufjan’s recklessness after his mother’s death. I like the song but the line “There’s blood on the blade, fuck me I’m falling apart” bugs me. Not because I take issue with Sufjan using the f word but something about it feels vulgar to me. When Stevens sang “I’m not fucking around” over and over and over on I Want To Well (Age of Adz), it felt more declarative and natural. On no shade, it feels dirty to me.
Blue Bucket of Gold doesn’t close the record on any sort of happy note. It’s Sufjan looking for something to be there for him like his mother never was.
I enjoy Carrie and Lowell. Pure unfiltered honesty from a “christian” artist is always refreshing and Sufjan is an open book. But Carrie and Lowell is a bit of a one note record. And given the heaviness of the subject matter, it’s not a record you’re going to want to listen to over and over again like much of Stevens previous work. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.