Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
With each album, the Arcade Fire have made a singular theme the focus of their work. On their 2004 debut, Funeral, loss was the nucleus of the album, hence the album's title. The loss came in many forms, whether it was death, loss of childhood innocence or loss of memory.
On 2007's Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire made the right wing Bush-era their target, and at one point front-man Win Butler even screamed "I don't want to love in America no more". And since the band hails from Montreal, Quebec, the Houston native Butler brothers -- as well as the rest of the band -- mean what they say.
Now the year is 2010. Barack Obama is in office -- someone that the Arcade Fire relentlessly supported during Obama's run for the presidency. So without a singular enemy to focus their angst upon, the band has aimed their sights at the suburbs. Hence, their third album's title.
The Suburbs is easily the band's most focused work. The songs build upon one another, Butler even repeats lyrics from earlier songs in later ones, driving the message home: the Arcade Fire hate the never ending sprawl of the suburbs and the loss of identity that comes with it. I hate it too...even though I live smack dab in the middle of the suburbs myself. Thankfully, my neck of the suburbs aren't crammed with "dead shopping malls rising like mountains beyond mountains", as Regine Chassagne points out on the albums best track, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)".
So what does it all mean? I don't think Butler and the band have much of an idea about it either as evidenced in many of the lyrics featuring self doubt. On the opener,"The Suburbs", Win admits "sometimes I can't believe it/I'm moving past the feeling, again". I take that as Butler realizing he's getting comfortable as he gets older, and losing that rebellious fire we all had as teenagers and college students before the real world turned us all into zombies. And on "City With No Children", Butler riffs on millionaires and how they can't be trusted, but then laments that he feels himself becoming one of them himself. And in the final minute of the album, on "The Suburbs Continued" Butler admits "if I had it all back, I'd waste it again".
But most of The Surburbs is made up of the wasted hours of teenagers, late-night drives, and kids who are mad at the world for no reason. It all paints the picture of a man who is coming to see beneath the surface of his life, hates what he sees, but doesn't do anything to change it. We all sell out little by little, we all become the adults we rebelled against as kids, and The Suburbs so accurately nails this, time and time again.
Like the band's focus on their main theme, this album is the band's most sonically focused album yet. Sometimes it's a little too focused, and I miss the band's natural ability to come apart at the seams, to color outside the lines a bit and add some fuzz to their sound. Not here. Every note is measured. There is more of a electronic feel to the sound. The band sounds like it's a four or five piece at times, not the expansive seven piece it's been until now. And while it works at times, it also causes the band to lose some of things that made it so great. There are no impromptu choral singalongs like on"Wake Up" or "No Cars Go". The band has grown up a bit, moved to the musical suburbs themselves, and ditched some of the unpredictable characteristics that made their first two albums so amazingly fresh.
That isn't to say The Suburbs isn't fresh or amazing. It's so good it's heartbreaking. It's the band's most measured album to date. An instant classic that will stand on its own well into the future. And I can say that after only having listened to the album a few times through.
Sometimes it takes a while to realize greatness, and for me that was Radiohead's Kid A, which took me almost 10 years to appreciate. But with the Arcade Fire, I have always known, right from the start, that the band and their music are something special.
The Suburbs is no different.