There's something quite complex and peculiar about the Canadian baroque-pop family Arcade Fire. Ever since they burst onto the scene in 2004, they have taken the indie rock world by storm. Two excellent albums, both highly viewed in their individual rights. "Funeral" being the first, an energetic and emotional piece of lo-fi indie rock. The follow-up "Neon Bible" was produced beautifully, with a wall of sound coming out of key tracks "Keep the Car Running" and "No Cars Go". Both albums note Arcade Fire's tendency to go overboard in their grandiose nature. Eight members can create a racket, but Arcade Fire has managed to keep this sound compact and harmonic since the beginning. "The Suburbs" is a completely different album to Neon Bible and Funeral. Arcade Fire are an artist that progresses, they are a progressive artist so to speak. It’s noted as one of the best albums of 2010, but why? Why did so many publications pick up on The Suburbs and rate it as generously as Neon Bible and Funeral?
"Wake Up" is a modern classic. In the 'underground' circles, Arcade Fire are considered one of the grandest and unique artists of the 00s and now, the 10s. They are a popular band and I know plenty of Arcade Fire fans, and that’s why they picked up a Grammy last year. That Grammy generated the short-lived but highly amusing meme, "Who the Fuck Are Arcade Fire?” That question does not need to be answered. The point is, Arcade Fire are a modern indie rock/baroque pop outfit who have sold out stadiums and have won awards, records and a massive worldwide backing. They're not Nickelback and they're not U2, this is our generation, this is Arcade Fire.
The titular track is an astonishing opener. It starts off so bright and pleasing, however lyrically it tells a different story. The piano and strings that enter oppose the original bright guitar and drum pattern. Winn Butler delivers one of his best written verses to date, with conviction and pure honesty, "So can you understand? Why I want a daughter while I'm still young. I wanna hold her hand, And show her some beauty before all this damage is done." This track is emotionally pleasing to me. The background guitar solo is dazzling and the string work emphasises Butler's lyrics. The video isn't half bad either...
Listening to The Suburbs is a bit like watching your favourite TV show; however it's a Christmas special. This album has an overwhelming amount of grand material, such as the guitar driven "Ready To Start" with its hypnotising lyrics, "If the businessmen drink my blood, Like the kids in art school said they would." There’s a nostalgic theme throughout Arcade Fire's third album and these early tracks set the mood for the long hour that awaits the listener. "Modern Man" continues the guitar driven structure. This track uses soundscapes and reverberated background guitars to set the dreamy mood.
"Rococo" is a spit in the face to today's youth, more precisely... Hipsters. Musically, the track has a treading feel with a deep bass. There's a brilliant guitar solo towards the end which is very post-punk like, but the track only really takes off musically towards the end with the running drums and the harmonic vocal mixed with the strings. Lyrically, Arcade Fire are attempting to stand away from the crowd by bringing up a topic of discussion that has aided them in their popularity. Butler sums it up with, "Let's go downtown and talk to the modern kids. They will eat right out of your hand. Using great big words that they don't understand." "EmptyRoom" is a much sharper and faster track. The guitar is definitely in full effect here. Regine Chassagne sings the lead vocal on this track, one of a few in which she sings this time round.
There's a gradual rise in maturity as The Suburbs progresses. "CityWith No Children" has a dynamic structure. The guitar riff is intended for a stadium tour, almost Bruce Springsteen like. Butler has stated in previous interviews how he wanted this album to sound like Neil Young and he achieves this in this little three/four track period. The following track "HalfLight I" is a delightful melodic and passionate anthem delivered by Regine. The lyrics are again nostalgic to the Butler brothers, "We run through the streets that we know so well. And the houses hide so much, But in the half light none of us can tell. They hide the ocean in a shell." It set's the mood for the blistering and electronic masterpiece "Half LightII". It's one of the stand out pieces of music on the album and Butler / Regine combine to deliver their best combined vocal on The Suburbs. The synth work is at its best and so is the strings and the atmosphere.
"Suburban War" is another track filled with imagery and musical brilliance. This time it's the acoustic and electric guitar riff that stand out. The final minute erupts with noise and a change in structure. The drumming loudens as does the ambient drone of the electric guitar, great stuff. "Month of May" is in a completely different league to the other tracks on the album. I'm not sure it fits with the rest; it certainly won't stand up lyrically in five/eight years. It's a pulsating rock track with energy and repetition, it's fantastic but it's not vintage Arcade Fire.
The Suburbs is an outstanding album, there’s no question about that. Tracks like "Wasted Hours" and "Deep Blue" are far more melodic and calmer than the compact heavy track from side one. "We Used ToWait" is one of the better tracks on side two. It has a standard Arcade Fire piano riff with the single noted repetition, an excellent look back to their 2004 album Funeral with the piano. "Sprawl I" features the best lyrics on the album in the most agonisingly painful moment on the album, "Cops shone their lights. On the reflectors of our bikes. Said, do you kids know what time it is? Well sir, it's the first time I've felt like something is mine. Like I have something to give. The last defender of the sprawl said, well where do you kids live? Well sir, if you only knew. What the answer is worth. Been searching every corner, of the earth." "Sprawl II" kicks in with Regine delivering her most thought provoking and critically evocative lyric on the album, "They heard me singing and they told me to stop. Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock." She goes on to sing, "Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains. And there's no end in sight, I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights." Sprawl II is easily the most accessible track on the album. Regine does her best and it pays off fading out into the last, but not least track "The Suburbs (Continued)". Here we hear string work in the pattern of the first track The Suburbs. Butler and Regine both deliver their final vocal together, the chorus of The Suburbs with a fade out, "Sometimes I can't believe it, I'm movin' past the feeling again."
Continuous listens of The Suburbs will answer the question I asked myself. We have over an hour of admirable material by an already established artist. They have not let anyone down by releasing an album without independent chart topping potential. Experimenting may be the case for the future, but The Suburbs is a simple 'take a look back' album. It's an album for the adolescents of USA and Canada. This is a North American release with North America at the heart of the lyrical themes. Funeral and Neon Bible are both terrific albums with distinctive features, but neither album has the raw desirable theme of nostalgia and a progression through youth to adult life. The Suburbs is not their best work to date and calling it their worst is not the right choice of words. It's the most valuable and the album they can look back on and favour with its maturity and excellence.