I’ve taken a lot of crap from a lot of people for my glowing reviews of past Arcade Fire albums. This article isn’t going to help me in that regard in any way at all because I plan on gushing yet again. Get your raincoats on and come with me as I gleefully slobber, gush, and get other body juices all over this Canadian band’s newest masterpiece.
Win Butler and his wife, Regine Chassagne, started Arcade Fire back in 2003 and have been blazing an exciting trail for modern music ever since. Their first full album, Funeral, released in 2004, was a sprawling work, with a musical backbone that felt too sturdy for a first album. The range of sound that was pulled together in that album was stunning, and a feet rarely achieved by a band until after they have been playing together for decades. It couldn’t have been done without the myriad of other artists that they pulled together, but with the group consisting of 7 members playing multiple instruments, Arcade Fire required a masterful orchestrator to keep the music from turning into a jumbled mess of noise. The Butlers did it, and they haven’t stopped since.
In 2007, we finally got their second album, Neon Bible, and it didn’t disappoint. Many critics felt their follow-up to Funeral was too bombastic and contained too much self-important grand standing, but I contend that if a musical artist isn’t given the freedom to express their personal opinions in their music then you can no longer call it art (stripping all accolades from the teen pop sensations finally and forever.) Neon Bible also gave us their most radio-friendly songs to date. While Funeral has won it’s fair share of awards, it was a tad eclectic for constant radio play. Neon Bible was loud and abrasive, but the songs were catchy enough to stand on their own. Black Mirror, Keep the Car Running, (Antichrist Television Blues), and No Cars Go all provided us with songs to jam to instead of simply contemplating. Add that to the release of the movie, Where the Wild Things Are, and the attention that movie gave to their song, Wake Up, off of Funeral, and it’s no surprise that Arcade Fire became a pariah of the Indie Music scene. They represent everything that is good about what Indie bands can create, yet they achieved the success that the hipsters decry. Which brings us to their third full length release.
Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is a near perfect mixture of their first and second albums, but about halfway through it has it’s very own surprise in store. It brings all of the musical grace of Funeral and melds it with the intensity and pop-craft of Neon Bible in a collaboration that will delight all of their fans. Certain songs stand perfectly by themselves like City With No Children, and others seem designed to exist in context with the ones that bookend them, like Half Light 1. You’ll hear mellow, beautiful tracks that harken back to what they accomplished on Funeral in songs like Modern Man and We Used To Wait. These songs build until they are on the brink of an explosive outburst that never comes, yet they leave you totally satisfied. You’ll also be treated to the abrasive, loud, catchy numbers like Rococo and Empty Room that could be transplanted onto Neon Bible and fit in perfectly.
It would be enough to ask that Arcade Fire somehow manage to meld the perfection of their first two albums into a cohesive cocktail, but it would be presumptuous of us to expect them to add something more… Could they? Of course they can. We’re talking about Arcade Fire after all.
This album finds it’s own sound more than halfway through with the ending of Suburban War, which fittingly seems to be a requiem to old friends. Track 10, Month of May, starts with an unforgiving, pop-punk beat that is simplistic yet muddied with reverb and the occasional backing vocals of Regine accompanying Win, adding depth that helps this song fit in better with what has come before. It is a refreshing track, if a bit out of place, but it unfortunately serves to set a false pace for the rest of the album. Up until this song, it seemed as if The Suburbs was building in much the same way that many of Arcade Fire’s songs do, by creating an expectation of a crescendo that barely happens. Yet Month of May provides us with an energetic zenith, and it ultimately feels too simplistic for this band. The fact that the following two songs are as calm as they are only exemplifies the touch of insanity that sprouted in track 10. In my first few listens to The Suburbs it took me until track 15, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), to really get back into the music, but by then it was all but over.
After going through the album and tearing it into pieces, I have found that I love the majority of what it has to offer, but as a whole it doesn’t quite work. I will be pulling the majority of the songs out of this album and placing them lovingly into playlists for my iPod, but I don’t think it will be making it into the CD player as a whole album very often. The narrative feels broken, unlike Funeral and Neon Bible, both of which work perfectly as full-listen-albums. I still recommend buying The Suburbs as there are enough great songs to warrant the purchase, but it wouldn’t be the album I would push onto an Arcade Fire virgin (that cherry-popping-honor goes to Neon Bible.)
All in all, Arcade Fire – The Suburbs gets four ships out of five
TWO SONGS – If I were forced to download only two songs off this album they would be Empty Room and City With No Children.