Arcade Fire, The – The Suburbs

The suburbs generally aren’t a place known for its liveliness. Unless you’re a realtor or a Prozac salesman, it’s the furthest place from party town, much less any place capable of holding interest for very long. You’d think it’d be a stretch of the imagination to conceive a concept album based on a residential area, especially one that is practically typified by the dullness of its denizens. Yet somehow, the Arcade Fire pulled it off. Who would have thought that a band whose anthemic music is often as grandiose as the Royal Philharmonic could carve a rich and compelling sculpture out of such a languid setting without overplaying their hand?

Practically every critic worth his weight in vinyls, that’s who. The Arcade Fire received near-universal acclaim for its debut Funeral, a transcendental album that lamented mankind’s mortality while simultaneously reveling in it. The sheer sensitivity in Win Butler’s voice as it waltzed around confessions of love and anxiety was exalted with an orchestral presence, creating a truly moving presentation. Funeral was forever venerated as one of the best albums of the decade, able to evoke a profound awareness of the state of humanity in a way not experienced through an album since In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea. Critics and fans, however, were slightly set back when the follow-up Neon Bible receded in favor of a more conventional rock n’ roll approach, with songs similar to “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” off their debut, carrying a sharp sense of cynicism and consternation rather than cathartic passion.

Given all of the imitators spawned by their debut, this stylistic realignment was in some sense a breath of fresh air. The Suburbs displays this same style but with flair, rekindling the fire that dimmed since their last outing. Each song unfurls like a flowering rosebud, revealing at times like “Half Light” a delicate zephyr of fluttering strings and synth and at others like “Empty Room” a fist-pumping rock n’ roll anthem. And never before has their message been so beautifully potent. Lines like “Dead shopping malls rise/ Like mountains beyond mountains/ And there’s no end in sight” paint a bleak picture of suburbia. The drama of the suburbs develops with each passionate strum of Butler’s guitar.

“The Suburbs” introduces the album demurely, setting a stage of midlife trepidation with its players bored with the “suburban war” set in front of them. Butler croons of his desires for a daughter while he is “still young” to show her the world’s transient beauty. Follower “Ready to Start” kicks up the pace and sentimentality with an agoraphobic lament on the business world. “Modern Man” showcases an unorthodox meter and “Suburban War” a moving crescendo, all the while each advancing the album’s bitter drama. By the end of “The Suburbs (continued)” the piece feels wholly concluded, a complete record in terms of both tonal and lyrical development.

This Montreal-based band has always prided themselves on their adherence to the now-moribund album aesthetic. Now more so than ever, they stand as one of the world’s greatest paragons of the album’s captivating power, with each release a masterpiece in itself. The Suburbs is an apt display of their acumen for proper sequencing, time management, and sonic variety and easily their strongest outing since Funeral. It’s certainly not for no reason that they’re one of Bono’s (and my) favorite bands. In once again proving their mettle as one of the world’s most impressive indie rock acts, the Arcade Fire have also weaved a heartbreaking confession from a grief-stricken middle-class, and masterfully so. They may be fearful of settling down, but it’ll take more than a midlife crisis to extinguish  the Arcade Fire.

by Mason “is a Suburban Warrior” McGough


1 Comment

  1. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs, by Mason McGough […]

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