Album Review: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

July 27, 2010

Concept: Arcade Fire’s central family reflects on their childhoods in the Canadian suburbs. As one critic eloquently put it, Funeral portrayed the death of a loved one like the end of the world, and Neon Bible was the inverse. The Suburbs hopes to deal with the more common, more pernicious issue of stifled ambition and false hope.

Sound: Before hitting upon the album’s positives, let’s dispel the myth of Arcade Fire’s towering genius and influence. They can’t have a whole lot of influence when all they are doing essentially is “reviving” the sounds and spirit of older bands. They already admitted this album was Depeche Mode meets Neil Young. That’s only half true, because they have foremost been a clone of Springsteen, and they can’t possibly have revived Springsteen, because Springsteen’s still here — why there he is now, standing right next to Win Butler performing an Arcade Fire song better than they can. By the way, Mr. Butler, was that you starting a rhythmic audience clap? Get out. Another chip off the Boss block, The Gaslight Anthem, established themselves on the music scene without riding a raging messianic tide of acclaim. They don’t need it, because unlike Arcade Fire they aren’t busting their asses attempting to be artistic about their shtick, and they aren’t boring. How do you unrepentantly imitate Springsteen and yet manage to so often make it, of all the things good and bad in his work, boring? The answer is that Butler, who must not be taken for a musical fool, has often been content to borrow a single wrinkly old pop rock progression, sometimes adding a clever twist somewhere in the middle, turn the volume down, cut the tempo in half, and then repeat it endlessly as both verse and chorus while melodramatizing it with snowballing layers of instumentation that often don’t even bother to harmonize or do so much as add rhythm. Nearly the only thing that redeemed Neon Bible of this was its brilliant anthemic closing track, My Body Is A Cage, perfectly suited for such an approach.
The good news about The Suburbs is not only has Arcade Fire exhibited some diversification of their tastes, but they’re more exciting of a listen track for track than they’ve ever been. Three of the first four songs are a welcome change for the band: the bleary-eyed ragtime opener; the hitching 9/8 frustration and paper thin optimism of Modern Man; the grand, OK Computer-esque anxiety of Rococo. At either end of a stretch of snoozers are Empty Room and Month Of May, both recalling the blurred dissonance and post-punk savvy of Sonic Youth. With the later tracks Deep Blue, We Used To Wait, and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), the impression is given that Arcade Fire is making an effort to subsume all the pop subgenres of the mid to late 1980s. The resultant tragically tacky and misguided futurism works out as one of several good ways to close an album of qualms with suburbia, even if the gesture doesn’t quite engage or entertain.

Lyrics: Arcade Fire, while occassionally hitting on an indelible image, doesn’t have the biggest way with words. They shoulder some pretty corny black-and-white ideas and they’re not afraid of proselytizing. The album’s more significant lyrics in a nutshell: you spend your life waiting and then it has passed you by, you don’t recognize your old friends, you want to escape the bright lights of civilization for the freedom of darkness and unknowing, and we’re all still impure, impatient children. The bands’ skill with inflection makes all the difference with many seemingly poor lines.

Quick And Dirty: A step in the right direction, stuffing classic rock sound with baroque pop figures old and new and a sprinkling of dark noise. If you’re an Arcade Fire fan, odds are nothing will ever measure up to Funeral for you, but this surely comes close, and for everyone else it will come off much better. (♦♦♦♦)

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs”

  1. Album Review: Arcade Fire ? The Suburbs « KJNB's Music Blog…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. Jammy said

    @ink here there all Arcade Fire tracks in mp3.
    The suburbs, ready to start, modern man, rococo, all. Enjoy.

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