Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
It can’t be easy being Arcade Fire. After releasing their superlative-defying debut album Funeral, they followed it up with Neon Bible which, while garnering almost universal critical acclaim, wasn’t as well recieved by the fans. Any other album with tracks like ‘Intervention’, ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘(Antichrist) Television Blues’ on it, would have been lauded as a career pinnacle but such were the standards that people held Arcade Fire to after Funeral, that while it wasn’t exactly a disappointment, there was a feeling they had more in them than the darker rock efforts that Neon Bible showcased. Tough critics they may have been but The Suburbs has just gone and proven them right as, in any sane world, it will come to be regarded as a modern masterpiece.
We all know that Arcade Fire are the band to come to for sweeping orchestral melodies and anthemic epics but The Suburbs showcases an increased maturity and an ability to pull you into a world that, while completely unknown to you at the opening bars of ‘The Suburbs’, you will swear that you grew up in by the end of the album. It’s the freshness and diversity of the tracks and the stories they weave that makes The Suburbs so effective. Some tracks approach the subject of growing up from vantage point of adulthood, reflecting back as on ‘City With No Children’ – “I wish that I could have loved you then / Before our age was through and before a World War does with us / Whatever it will do” – whereas others firmly plant you back into their youth. ‘Half Light I’'s “Lock us up safe and hide the key / But the night tears us loose and in the half light we’re free” is particularly evocative.
Listened to in its entirety, the craft is apparent. Every track has its partner; notice how the haunting and slightly eerie repetition of ‘Rococo’ leads into the positively sparkling violin intro to ‘Empty Room’ - and it’s not just the musical juxtapositions. The overall themes are explored throughout so that each track feels like a chapter in an extended musical book and specific lines re-appear in slightly different forms: “Grab your mother’s keys / We’re leaving” from ‘The Suburbs’ is revisited in ‘Suburban War’ – “Grab your mother’s keys / We leave tonight”.
However, quality song writing is nothing without the music to back it up. Here Arcade Fire deliver; the sheer depth and fullness of the sound that they create is especially evident on the absolutely gorgeous ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ where strings and synths combine with Régine Chassagne’s breathy vocals to create an absolute delight of a track. It’s also not all within the same style either as the band journey through several genres: the furious ‘Month Of May’ venturing into their punk side and the ballad ‘Wasted Hours’ which sees the band slow things down almost to a canter. The most intimidating thing for any other band listening to The Suburbs is that even with 16 tracks, there’s no filler – even the refrain of the opening of ‘The Suburbs’ that ends the album serves a purpose in leading you back to the inevitable re-listen.
That the album contains no immediately accessible anthems in the vein of ‘Wake Up’ might be a cause for concern for some but it’s clear that Arcade Fire weren’t looking for Funeral II and, as such, have created their most mature and complete effort to date. Grand but not bloated, artistic but not pretentious, thoughtful but not dull, The Suburbs is close to musical perfection.