Sufjan Stevens Releases a Stunning New Version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 7 2012 11:58 AM

Sufjan Stevens Sings “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens performs in 2008.

Photo by Mike Flokis/Getty Images

Just in time for the election results, indie songster and 50-states-chronicler Sufjan Stevens has released a striking new version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for free on his website.

And when I say it’s a new version, I mean that. Stevens updates not just the arrangement—adding one of his signature (and not universally beloved) discordant guitar solos—but also changes the melody and the lyrics. He used to play a similar version back on his Illinoise tour, but this is the first time he’s recorded it for release.

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Though people can read what they will into the timing, Stevens made no indication that the release was a partisan celebration. Posted in the evening, hours before Obama was projected as the winner, the song takes a tone that’s surprisingly mournful. The lyrics, too, are a bit ambiguous: After describing a “flag marked with blood” and making Christian allusions to “a man on the cross,” the song wonders, “Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?”

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.