6 years ago Win Butler’s ragtag group of Baroque-rockers captivated the indie music world with Funeral, an album about death and letting go. The appeal of an album tackling such a heavy subject with blunt honesty and joy made everyone a fan, including Mr. 5 Years himself, David Bowie, who performed the hit ‘Wake Up’ live with the band. Arcade Fire followed up with Neon Bible to mixed reviews. Topics of religion and conservatism told through angry lyrics and sonic fury proved to be a little over the top even for the theatrically unconventional 7-piece.
Now with The Suburbs, Arcade Fire combines the focal points of both previous albums. It’s an ode to their old neighbourhood, the same place where their dreams (or more so, the dreams of their less-fortunate hometown peers) were born, grew old and expired either by conforming to boredom or lack of personal initiative. And that pretty much sums up the contrast in Suburbs. Some songs are about the death of dreams while others are about their conceptions. What makes it such a marvel of an album is that all 16 tracks are put together so seamlessly (don’t you just hate that word!) that it makes it hard to hit the stop button.
While there are recurring words that Win uses throughout Suburbs that might feel redundant after a while, they reflect the clichÃ©-ness of Western suburban life. Words like “kids”, “parents”, “town”, “city” and “car”. Yes, the last one points to escapism, which is what Win seems to be gaming for these days.
But he’s finding it harder with all the success from his band. The title track, which is also the opener, has a chorus that says it all: “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling…” And that feeling is the omnipresent “Is this all there is to life?” told through shuffling piano and country-ish guitar chords. Driving the point further is the next track ‘Ready To Start’, which opens with the line “Businessmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would…”
The 80s, Tom Petty-ish ‘Modern Man’ rounds up the opening sequence of songs and shows that Win’s words are now coming from another place. If Funeral was Win the kid longing for escape and Neon Bible about his teenage angst years, then Suburbs is Win returning home as a “modern man” and explaining the facts of life to his son. But there’s still fire in the man as evident in ‘Rococo’ where he hits out on airhead hipsters “using great big words that they don’t understand” and who “build it up just to burn it back down.”
Only by listening to The Suburbs from head to end will you be able to get how colourful the album really is, although its themes don’t vary that much. But when you’ve got fiery garage punk songs (‘Month Of May’, ‘We Used To Wait’) sitting next to 2-part musical epics [‘Half Light I’/’Half Light II (No Celebration)’, ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’/’Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’], there’s not much to argue about. Except maybe if The Suburbs will get a Grammy nod this year.
LISTEN TO: ‘Month Of May’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Broken Social Scene, The National, Interpol
Visit Arcade Fire in The Suburbs at www.arcadefire.com.
1 THE SUBURBS
2 READY TO START
3 MODERN MAN
5 EMPTY ROOM
6 CITY WITH NO CHILDREN
7 HALF LIGHT I
8 HALF LIGHT II (NO CELEBRATION)
9 SUBURBAN WAR
10 MONTH OF MAY
11 WASTED HOURS
12 DEEP BLUE
13 WE USED TO WAIT
14 SPRAWL I (FLATLAND)
15 SPRAWL II (MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS)
16 THE SUBURBS (CONTINUED)