Arcade Fire’s discography so far has progression not unlike growing up. Funeral, for all its emotional bombast, could be imagined as an adolescent’s notebook, with phrases like “Children, don’t grow up” at the top of the page, or “Every time you close your eyes/LIES! LIES!” in big letters. Neon Bible flips the focus outward, and instead sounds like a list of the modern world’s problems being proclaimed on a street corner.
On The Suburbs, Arcade Fire thematically return to the old haunts on Funeral, but with the perspective flipped. The kids aren’t kids anymore, and they’re starting to realize that. “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling” sings Win Butler on the opening title track, and that detachment from living and dying in the moment is definitely part of aging. The song is definitely a standout, kicking the record off with a deceptively jaunty and an almost folkie swing; piano, acoustic guitar, and a simple drumbeat are the primary backers on the easy-swinging opener.
Over The Suburbs‘ 16 tracks and 64 minute runtime, Arcade Fire covers a whole lot of musical ground. One thing that’s true about the whole record is that she is gorgeous. This is best seen in the one-two of “Rococo”, which ends in an Arcade-Fire-meet-Sonic-Youth feedback squall, and “Empty Room”, which adds some propulsive drum work to “Rococo”‘s slow, pretty flourishes. In other places, the band takes a more indie rock approach (“Ready to Start”, “Sprawl I”, and “Suburban War”), culminating in “Month of May”, which is less indie rock and more Ramones. Even through all of this, Arcade Fire never loses their trademark theatrics; everything on here is made to be grand. And then there are times where the band jumps into new territory entirely, as shown by “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” that continues the Arcade Fire Tradition of pen-ultimate tracks being awesome. Regine Chassegne leads the way through a twinkling, synthy trip through accepting that you won’t leave the sprawl, bringing closure to living in the suburbs.
Lyrically, Butler and Chassegne are able to hit the sweet spot of personal and universal without being bland. “Suburban War” exemplifies this best; it talks about that friend that you used to want to take on the world with (the other person from “Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)?), and now you want so much to hear from them that you look at strangers in cars for them. Elsewhere, Butler totally trashes hipsters, and laments the rampant instant gratification present in modern culture. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call a lot of lyrics bitter, but there’s also a lot of hope on here that things will end up ok. It’s this hope that made Funeral succeed where Neon Bible occasionally faltered, and it also makes The Suburbs hit harder than it would have otherwise.
Like its predecessors, The Suburbs works best as a full album. Each song is strong on its own, but each one is so much stronger when it’s given a context and stands next to its kin. For example, “Month of May” seems kind of oddly paced when listened to in a general mix, but when it’s placed between “Suburban War” and “Wasted Hours”, it’s kick works wonderfully and sounds so much better. The Suburbs might be a longer album, but not unnecessarily.
I’ve listened to The Suburbs all the way through everyday since I bought it, and I still keep coming back for more. It’s musically impressive, the lyrics are wonderful, the length is good…Arcade Fire does it again. Five stars.
tl;dr: The best album I’ve heard all year. Five stars.