Is this what Sufjan Steven's hears when he listens to the Beatles? Is it a serious attempt to challenge our assumptions about the Beatles? Is it an elaborate joke?
What we have here is the rock and roll version anxiety of influence. The Beatles are the ones to beat. Stevens makes a bold move and as opposed to most of the other covers on this tribute to the Rubber Soul, the Beatles walk away sounding like Steven's, not vice versa. "What Goes On" makes an easy target—it's not like he took on "Hard Day's Night" or "Hey Jude"—but it also ensured a decisive win. The song only is recognizable in flashes. The lyrics aren't changed but may as well be—"You didn't even think of me with someone with a name" sound wistful in a rock shuffle, but absolutely devastating in Steven's shuffled rock.
The Beatles' Rubber Soul took its name from a footwear pun so weak it has since been neatly set aside and forgotten. But if the joke was meant to suggest that the Beatles had stretched the definition of "soul," Sufjan Stevens stretches it beyond recognition.