>Album Review: "The Suburbs" by the Arcade Fire


yeah, eight different covers, but not in a “cool” way

Yes, it’s been out for a while. Yes, I was going to review it around the time it came out. Yes, I didn’t.

We, as a nation, must move on.

There are so many things I could write about the new Arcade Fire record. And so many things I could write about the Arcade Fire! For the past five years or so they have been one of those “IT” bands, for me. For a few years there they were “that one indie rock band I LIKE”, a distinction I have thankfully gotten over. But I can’t blame myself for feeling that way; I fell in love with the Arcade Fire because they sounded like they gave a shit, like they had some fucking blood pumping through their veins. They were a band unafraid to embrace passion and heartache without irony, to put everything they had into their music, to scream and yelp at the top of their lungs until their voices cracked. And, thank God, they knew how to write melodies worthy of that passion.

But things are a little different, now. Here’s a fun game: play each of the Arcade Fire’s opening album tracks back to back (all THREE of them) for comparison’s sake, and prepare to be disoriented. “Neighborhood #1” and especially “Black Mirror” are so gigantic they’re almost deafening, but “The Suburbs”? What the fuck is this? Paul McCartney circa 1970’s McCartney? There’s nothing “epic” about this song in the slightest! Where’s the anguish? Where’s the Win Butler screams? Why aren’t there any voices shouting “WHOAA-AOOO” in unison? Why, this isn’t the Arcade Fire at all!!

This may be your reaction to most of The Suburbs. Upon first listen, at least. But eventually you will realize what a solid, well-constructed record this is, I promise you. As I was telling my buddy Adam last week, I like to think of it this way: you remember that constant feeling of dread Neon Bible evoked? That premonition that some horrible event was just around the corner, and there was nothing we could do but sit on our hands and let it swallow us whole? Well, if The Suburbs is any indication, it didn’t happen. If it did, we didn’t notice it. If Funeral was about loss and Neon Bible was about fear, then The Suburbs is about apathy.

That’s not to say the music here is apathetic – quite the contrary – but The Suburbs evokes that uncanny feeling of boredom, sitting alone in your parents’ basement waiting for something to happen. Sometimes something does; most of the time, nothing. As such, it might be the most relatable Aracde Fire record yet released, at least to me. I’m not going to nitpick lyrics here (because I hate doing that), but the key line of the record is right there at the beginning: “Sometimes I can’t believe it / I’m moving past the feeling.” They don’t say what that “feeling” is, because they don’t have to. You know what that feeling is, that one feeling you start to lose as you grow a bit older. It’s almost a more defeated take on that line in “Wake Up” (“our bodies get bigger / but our hearts get torn up”), only written after that feeling is already gone.

But I won’t dig too deep into these themes. What I appreciate most about The Suburbs is its willingness to ditch the gigantic choral sound of classic Arcade Fire and find power in a more down-to-earth approach. “Modern Man” is a pop-rock song, featuring one of Win Butler’s most restrained vocal performances; “Month Of May” is some kind of twisted mock punk-rock thing; “Wasted Hours” is a casual, understated bit of folk; “City With No Children” is an handclap-laden slice of Caribbean joy. I can safely say that none of these songs sound like anything the Arcade Fire has done before. And even The Suburbs‘ big, emotional songs (which, contrary to everything else I have written here, there are plenty of) don’t sound a whit like you would expect them to. Again, compare “Sprawl II” to “Wake Up” or “No Cars Go” and you will be surprised: not only is it just Regine singing, it almost sounds like a “Heart Of Glass” knockoff, or something! How could this possibly be the emotional centerpiece of the record?? But oh ho, it is. It works. Synths and all, it works! And unlike “In The Backseat,” it manages to be danceable at the same time! Incredible!!

The Suburbs isn’t going to reach through your throat and rip out your still beating heart like the last couple records did. But that’s OK; it’s not trying to. This is a new approach for the Arcade Fire. Some may complain that they sound “just like any other band” now, or something. Or maybe nobody will. Maybe I am arguing with a strawman. That is most likely the case. But either way, if you’re not sure about this record on first listen, listen again! Your mind might change. I am just happy to know that this band I like so much is not content to rest on their laurels, and that they can be just as effective with normal pop-rock as they were with epic emotional orchestra-rock. That is comforting.

But what do you care? It’s #1 on the Billboard charts, so chances are you’ve already given these bastards your money, or at least downloaded the thing illegally. If you enjoyed it, I have been honored to reinforce your opinion. If you didn’t, then fuckk YOuuUUUUU

OK, readers, get ready to vote on what my next review will be!! Here are your choices:

1) Hanson’s Shout It Out
2) Nick Carter’s Now Or Never
3) Jordan Knight’s Jordan Knight

Vote now! Vote! Vote! Vote now!!