The Arcade Fire ‘The Suburbs’ – Review

3 Aug

Can you imagine living in a world without the internet or mobile phones? I’m 20, and for at least half my life I survived without either but it’s almost unimaginable now. How would I stay in contact with old friends? How would I find new music? What would I do if I broke down in the middle of nowhere? Instant access to anything, and instant communication with anyone – these are both great things but at the same time it is easy to romanticize what we have lost.

‘We Used To Wait’ is the lead single from Arcade Fire’s new album and it deals with this exact subject. ‘We used to write letters’, win sings with a sense of sadness, ‘it seems strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive’. It is a song about the lost art of waiting – we are so used to having everything ready at the click of a button that we have forgotten how to wait. We even have to wait for the chorus to arrive, and when it eventually comes after a good couple of minutes it’s more than worth it – this is classic Arcade Fire. ‘Our Lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last’ – he ends the song by deciding he will write a letter to his true love and again experience the pain of just sitting and waiting. It’s nostalgic, it’s romantic and it’s ‘The Suburbs’ in a nutshell, an album that takes issue with the modern world.

Arcade Fire’s first album, ‘Funeral’, arguably changed the indie landscape when it was released in 2004, and their second, ‘Neon Bible’ propelled them into the mainstream (it reached number 2 in both the UK and US). In many ways The Suburbs serves as a bridge between the two albums. It retain’s the former’s emotional intensity with the bird’s eye scrutiny of the latter. ‘The Suburbs’ is a grand and sweeping statement, just like their last album, but it’s much easier to relate to than ‘Neon Bible’, which was a slippery and slightly self-righteous record – this time around the tone is less political and less preachy and the whole album is much more consistent. Yes it’s very long, but it feels epic and not at all ill-conceived.

To see how the songs link together is a constant pleasure, and something that will keep me coming back to the album time and time again. ‘Half Light I’ surges into ‘Half Light II’ and it continues with the former’s theme of location, destination and home. It also links the first half’s AOR style with a second half that adds 80’s pop to the list of influences. I honestly wasn’t expecting the synths to be so blatant on ‘Sprawl II’ and yet it sounds so natural and glorious. ‘The Suburbs’ and ‘The Suburbs Continued’ bookend the album and set the tone for the record’s musical atmosphere, which is less doom and gloom than ‘Neon Bible’ but less euphoric than ‘Funeral’. It’s still classic rock music with an indie edge and orchestral sophistication but somehow it feels less ornate than their previous work, it feels more instinctive.

Key words and themes keep reoccurring as well – if you had a penny for every time kids or the suburbs were mentioned you would be a very rich man indeed. The general mood is one of longing for a past that has disappeared.  On the title track Win talks about how he wants a daughter whilst he’s still young so she can see some of the beauty that’s still left in the world. On ‘The City With No Children’ he looks back to a summer where he broke his arm, but talks of his regret. This is an album that is nostalgic for a wasted youth and yet bitter (or seems to be) with modern teenagers and the modern world. Overall it’s a dense and provoking album, its questions don’t give easy answers but they will keep you intrigued.

I had my doubts about ‘The Suburbs’, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this good. In the three years between the release of ‘Neon Bible’ and this, I had forgotten how much I love Arcade Fire. I’d forgotten the excitement of seeing them on Top of the Pops, destroying their instruments as a confused audience looked on, I’d forgotten how chaotic and bewitching they were at Reading and Leeds, I’d forgotten how deeply their music resonated with my own concerns and feelings. Basically I’d forgotten that Arcade Fire are amongst the best bands in the world, but after this album I won’t forget again in a hurry.



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