Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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It may take an irritatingly long time for Arcade Fire to release an album, currently working at the pace of one album every three years, but when one is finally released it becomes clear just why it took so long. Arcade Fire aren’t like most bands around today. They don’t simply respond to the musical trends of the time, lowering themselves to some generic rubbish that every other band is playing. They take time to write their music, carefully constructing the complexity of their songs and tackling deep concepts in their lyrics, avoiding the tedium of simple verse/chorus structures. What results is a fantastic folk art-rock cocktail, bringing together many influences delivered through a huge range of instruments, many of which are rarely heard in modern music.

The band’s third album, The Suburbs, is a perfect example of this unique sound so brilliantly created by Arcade Fire. All the components are there which made their previous two albums such phenomenal pieces of work, making this album not too dissimilar from their other work. What is noticeably different though is that the exciting young sound of Funeral and Neon Bible has gone, with Arcade Fire now taking the role of wise old musicians, reflecting back rather than looking forward in their music. Their first two albums gave the impression of a band itching to break out and shout to the world through the medium of music, but on The Suburbs, they seem sorrowful and sentimental. But this is not a bad thing; the album is all about vocalist Win Butler’s upbringing in the suburbs of Houston and the care-free life of adolescence that accompanied it. This is certainly clear when listening to the album as something truly tragic keeps surfacing from song to song, which you finally realise by the end is a desperate longing for the past which walks hand-in-hand with getting old.

Although this new approach means that anthemic songs, like the chant-inducing ‘Wake Up’ from Funeral, are not present on the album, the music is nevertheless still brilliant. Songs like ‘Half Light I’, a beautifully delicate synth-led number, or ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’, a brutally sad offering from Win Butler and his piano, show the band’s gentle side. Album highlights ‘Empty Room’ and ‘Month Of May’, however, show that the band can still rock, with these songs offering fantastic up-beat music which acts as a great contrast to the equally brilliant slower numbers of the album. Everything else on the album falls in between these two extremes in a typically Arcade Fire way, although occasionally turning towards epic musical climaxes, such as with ‘Half Light II’, or 80s electro-sounding ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’.

The album’s lengthy 16 tracks may seem a bit too long for an album, and certainly Arcade Fire have taken a risk with putting so much on The Suburbs, but luckily for them it works perfectly. With a bit of patience, the 16 tracks are easily digestible, helped by the seamless flow of one song to the next throughout the album. By the time you get to the final track, ‘The Suburbs (Continued)’, it seems worth the wait and the concept of the album is neatly concluded by Butler and fellow singer Régine Chassagne echoing the lyrics of the very first song.

With an album so similar to the band’s earlier work musically, yet markedly different in feeling and emotion, Arcade Fire can hardly go wrong, and The Suburbs will certainly be held in the same regard as their first two releases.

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4 Comments

  1. avatar

    Good review. Definately my favourite album of the year so far by a mile!! I love how they refrained from trying to make their sound even bigger than Neon Bible, and actually toned the music down. Personally my favourites are ‘Modern Man’, ‘Ready To Start’, ‘Suburban War’, ‘Deep Blue’ and ‘Roccoco’. However, I think every song on this album is brilliantly crafted, and I rate Arcade Fire nearly as highly as Radiohead.

      • avatar

        Might have to agree to disagree on that one. I reckon that The Suburbs has more of a difficult sound. Some songs are quite frentic, such as ‘Ready To Start’, ‘Empty Room’ and ‘Month Of May’ and others are quite sweeping like the title track and the Beatles-esque ‘Deep Blue’. Neon Bible sounded much more Orchestral at times, for example, the church organ and string arrangement in ‘Intervention’ and the grandiose sounds of ‘Keep The Car Running’ and ‘No Cars Go’. But at the end of the day, Arcade Fire are just amazing!!

  2. avatar

    I have to question whether a band that debuted with an album called “Funeral”, based on death could really have only turned “sorrowful” on their third album but there you go…

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