ALBUM REVIEW: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Well I had to eventually, didn’t I? Even being out of the loop for a short while made me miss the leak and massive hype ended up putting me off listening to the album straight away but now I have it, I can’t miss writing about what is probably ultimately going to be considered one of the top albums of the year. Of course, Arcade Fire have already set a precedent with two brilliant LPs, Funeral and Neon Bible, and their 3 year absence has built in some suspense, suspense fueling the hype surrounding this most grandiose (albeit with a humble concept) 3rd record.
The Suburbs. It’s a good idea, the music is the sort of stuff that fills stadiums, as witnessed recently with their Youtube-streamed Madison Square Garden gig, it’s definitely not what you would expect to hear as the soundtrack to those constructed communities. Like previous work it is soaring and soothing as well as just plain grand, music that portrays a plethora of emotion, across its 16 tracks. 16 being rather a generous amount of songs for the one album in comparison to contemporaries. Opening with the rocking, country-filled “The Suburbs” you’d be easily mistaken to think the Canadian outfit had perhaps toned down on the extremity of their music, dispelled by the second time the chorus comes around, as it swells with some harmonious chanting.
The album is followed by what seems at first cohesively by “Ready To Start” which suddenly has a tonal shift into a tide of what could be judged paranoia and claustrophobia. The haunting vocals of Win Butler, almost half-heartedly sung, a saddened emotion holding him down, possibly pushing that this is in fact the hidden, the repressed emotion behind the picture-perfect front of those suburban exteriors. By the time “Modern Man” and “Rococo” come in, the overuse of the “modern” lyric between the songs is wholly emphasizing the artificial and new aspects of those suburbs, those neighborhoods, the former building up some kind of false expectation and set up for the men who inhabit such homes, with a dreamlike easy-listening base of which much grander instrumental is built around. The latter song’s use of “Modern Kids” in the lyrics perhaps speaking of the effects upon those children born and raised in such communities, the choric chanting becoming some kind of buzz word, something that is passed around, the dissatisfaction and hatred perhaps? Or maybe some kind of uprising, and rebellion, which ties it neatly to (arguably) their most famous song, “Rebellion (Lies)” and it’s visual (in the video) and verbal child-like nature.
A fast paced, “Keep The Car Running”-esque vibe is created with “Empty Room”, a song that could be easily described as what you’d come to expect from an Arcade Fire album, whereas the following “City With No Children” may contain the trademark vocals and wailing, but musically I think it cuts a different shape, some kind of inexplicable happiness that contrasts deeply with the lyrics. This is followed by the two “Half Light” songs, that could represent a 24 hour cycle of day and night, in fact, musically with it’s clear, pure sounds, the first of the two seems to be set up for the immense divergence in the latterly “Half Light II”, yet past it’s Depeche Mode-reminiscent intro, and into the second half of the song, the happiness, the emotion resumes, breaks from a repressed state, with an electro beat that reminded me immensely of “Power Out”, making the pair full circle.
What follows is the brilliant “Suburban War,” the sort of song that is destined to become some kind of calling card for Arcade Fire, the over-wrought emotion and hyperbolic lyrics, the song being a call to arms, hammered drums and an erratic beat remind me of “Wake Up”, I love the song, it’s a battle-cry you can dance to, a song that I don’t think is bettered by any others on the album. This is followed by the previous, rock rollicking, and overall uplifting in my opinion, “Month of May”, I remember Zane Lowe playing these a little while back, and not being incredibly impressed but coming back to the song now, I love it. It’s just a perfect anthem, that unlike Suburban War, strikes out a tone very different to previous Arcade Fire albums, the dark, punk vibe to the song reminded me a little of a toned down effort from Titus Andronicus.
After this, the band revert back to their acoustic, folky troupe stage, with “Wasted Hours” and “Deep Blue”, songs that practically blur into each other, before the loving, clashing, “We Used To Wait” with it’s anxiety-inducing build up, the repetitive drum beat, a consistent pull for the song is just a brilliant base for the song, like a countdown that never seems to end. The album reaches it’s conclusive end with the two “Sprawl” songs, much like the aforementioned “Half Light” pair, you get the sense of a cohesive lyrical narrative, also like those two songs, it’s first part, (Flatland), does contrast with the second, II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), with the former focusing on a downbeat, down on his luck vocal, coupled with a typically sad musical backing. The latter is easily the more interesting, a high-pitched wail, with an infused, electronic accompaniment, that breaths positivity into the album, the optimism stemming forth from the choric “Mountains Beyond Mountains” breaks out from the rest of the album in it’s own way.
Much like Sgt. Peppers, Arcade Fire usher in a slight reprise to initiate the end of the album, that ties it all together nicely, in a nice little spherical bow. Take a step back and you see that yet again they have created a work of beauty, their third album may or not prove to be as timeless as those that came before it but for the right now, it is very much a strong, body of music, one LP that you would be mad to miss out on this year.