Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
It’s finally here. Today sees the official U.S. release of The Arcade Fire’s third full length studio album, The Suburbs. If you haven’t heard it yet then download it now or go get in your car and drive to the closest music dispensary and buy this fucking album. Right now!
Ok, now that you’ve got the album and you’ve listened to it, let’s talk about it. It’s really fucking good, right? Yeah, well, I would assume that goes without saying, but it has to be said at least once, for posterity’s sake or something. But yeah, The Suburbs.
It’s been 3 very long years since we last heard in full from the Montreal-based indie giant. Spring of 2007 saw the release of Arcade Fire’s sophomore album Neon Bible, a decent showing after the now classic debut, Funeral. That album launched them into indie stardom, garnering them rave reviews from even mainstream media outlets like “Rolling Stone” and “The New York Times”. The follow up was a bit of that dreaded sophomore slump, but honestly, how could you possibly conceive of being able to release something that could stand up anywhere near Funeral? Expectations ran high (I know I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Neon Bible) and the album turned out pretty decent. It had some really good songs on it like the single “Keep the Car Running” and. It was a good album, probably better than I give it credit for, I was after all expecting a lot after having fallen so hard for the band on Funeral, but it just didn’t have all the right parts in the right places, ya know? It was in need of a certain… je ne sais pas. What that album was really lacking was the fact that it wasn’t nearly as grand or as powerful as the Arcade Fire can truly be. That is not the case on The Suburbs.
The Arcade Fire have crafted a sweeping (dare I say sprawling) epic on a scale the size of the American Dream. They capture something that most people don’t really think about, though it’s all they really know; living in the suburbs. The Arcade Fire express clearly many of the same things that I’ve felt about living where I do: exhilaration, frustration, desperation, and, thankfully, hopefulness. It is apparent that much of the past three and a half years have been spent thinking about and planning for how this album was going to be constructed. And it shows. The album itself is heartfelt and honest, Win Butler and gang don’t feed us any bullshit, this is what they know and how it’s made them who they are. Obviously, this is probably their most “mature” album to date.
It’s not just a mature album though, it’s an album that matures as you listen through it. The album starts out unbelievably strong, filled with all of the boundless energy and vitality of youth. Songs like the single “The Suburbs” and “Empty Room” are undeniably catchy and, especially the latter of the two, pack the punch of a rebellious punk song along the lines of early The Clash. Tracks like “Modern Man” and “Rococo” are two of the more epic and stretching songs on the album. I mean epic more in literary terms rather than “epic pwnage” for instance. The story that they tell us is on a much grander scale than usual, transcending simply the life of one person, but instead appealing to a multitude of us; anyone who grew up in the suburbs can relate to at least some of what Win Butler is singing about. The whole album is epic in this sense.
There is a noticeable shift in tone at the track “City with No Children”, the album seems to start to settle into itself a little more around this point. “Suburban War” comes across as one of the band’s most mature tracks to date with its driven yet infectious riffs and inspired lyrics. This great song leads into the fast paced “Month of May”; I gotta admit, it’s weird hearing The Arcade Fire attempt something approaching a punk song. I do like hearing Win Butler sing “Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight” over the quick and bouncy beat.
After the near anarchy caused by the oddly placed “punk” track “Month of May”, “Wasted Hours” is one of the more assuring and uplifting songs I’ve ever heard The Arcade Fire make. I feel that the juxtaposition of these two tracks was purposeful and they are meant to feed off of eachother. We can see evidence of this when we take a look at some of the lyrics. “Month of May” leaves us with the image of wires being blown away in chaos and an orchestral cacophony accompanying it. “Wasted Hours” picks up, much more calmly, after the storm, with “Spent the summers staring out the window/ The wind it takes you where it wants to go.” These self-referential lyrics appear again later in “Wasted Hours” when Win Butler sings about driving “around and around”, a reference to the same word being repeated over and over again on “Month of May”. Every time I listen to the album I feel like I pick up on more of these little nuances that the band worked into the album, its actually really fucking cool.
The album has a great build-up going for it after those two songs, “We Used to Wait” is a nice ride through familiar Arcade Fire surroundings while the frailty and near hopelessness of “Sprawl I (Flatland)” work to make the album’s jewel shine that much brighter. The album has its emotional and musical crescendo with the catharsis that is “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” Régine Chassagne really outdoes herself here and totally kills this track. She sings with honesty and emotion throughout, complimented by the wonderful new-wave inspired synths and beats. The song still gives me slight chills whenever I listen to it.
Yeah. So this album is definitely an experience. One that does require most of your attention though, if you want to get the most out of it. Give it the time and thought it deserves, you really won’t be disappointed.