(From the Band’s Website, Arcadefire.com)
Sandwiched somewhere between flurries of haunting orchestral strings, jaunty guitar, piano strolls along picket fences with manicured lawns, and singer Win Butler’s theatrical falsettos, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” finds new artistic territory for their signature intricately-sculpted-yet-melodically-quirky sound in a setting familiar to many; our own suburban back yards. Sure the album was released on August 3rd (which was over two months ago), but with the kind of splash it made on the world indie-rock stage, it is definitely worth a further mention.
The inspiration for the album is as clear as the title; the suburbs. It’s not a subject entirely foreign to Arcade Fire, their past album “Funeral” was centered around the idea of a suburban town shut down by a blizzard, and they both reference the same themes of children, wars, enemies, dividing lines, and parent-child relationships, among others. In “The Suburbs,” though, there is a distinctly adult perspective, a more mature consideration of suburbia as an idea, and a story more about the parents than the children (a road less-traveled for the Montreal-based group). Butler tells us: “I want a daughter while I’m still young / I want to hold her hand / and show her some beauty before all this damage is done”(“the Suburbs,” track 1). The principle of the suburbs has the idea of a nuclear family (kids included) at its heart, and there is plenty of meditation on what suburbia means to us all throughout the whole CD. “Sometimes I wonder if the world is so small / that we can never get away from the sprawl?” Chassagne coos over a bubbly, synth-laden orchestration in “The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. It’s an interesting question; one that permeates the idea of the album as a whole as the band members get older and mature into their beyond-twenty years.
That doesn’t mean this group of alt-indie royalty has by any chance gone square, though; quite to the contrary, they’ve come out with guitars thrashing on some tracks, most notably “Month of May,” a fist-pumping punkish number that’ll have your head bobbing along to the bass drum (See here for their performance of the song on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”). In other places they are, like the suburbs, standard and familiar, with 4/4 time signatures pounded out like clockwork through bass lines and snare drums, Butler laying lyrics over the instrumental with a storyteller’s charisma and flair.
“The Suburbs” really is a collection of stories in many aspects, as Butler and Chassagne sing through characters such as a businessman bound by the mundane life of the suburbs(“Modern Man,” track 3), a couple of kids running away and finding that the romance of starting anew is less than romantic (“Half Light” and “Half Light II [No Celebration],” tracks 7 and 8), and a soul in retrospect on his past life and the time he wasted (“Deep Blue,” track 12). Somewhere in the midst of all these characters it’s easy to find someone’s story to attach to, and with so many different feels to every individual song, this album delivers a very personal experience upon listening.
As for individual tracks, the standout songs are “Month of May,” the hardest-hitting number of the bunch, and “We Used to Wait,” a haunting run through the nighttime streets that builds from a quiet reminiscence over piano and drums to a sweeping crescendo (this song was the subject of an interesting online music video experiment that makes good use of Google Chrome & Google Earth to personalize the experience… check it out here). Also worth a mention are “Ready to Start,” “Rococo,” and “Modern Man;” fantastic tracks in their own right and worth hearing for yourself.
As the album closes with a quieter, more mature, worldly and jaded version of the opener “the Suburbs,” the album begs a second listen. And then a third. It’s impossible to catch everything on the first time through Arcade Fire’s newest sprawling, musical masterpiece; there is something new and wonderful to find every time you hit “play.”