Reviews Music Arcade Fire — The Suburbs

Arcade Fire — The Suburbs

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade FireThe Suburbs
Merge Records; 2010
16 Tracks; CD, LP, Digitlal Download


Review by: Lee Fraser

The Suburbs has little in common with the suburbs.

The suburbs of most major North American cities can be bland, monotonous, and lacking diversity and creativity. Even though there are often some very good intentions, the excitement and attractiveness are short-lived. Not so with Arcade Fire's latest release, their third full-length album, The Suburbs.

Listening to this album is a treat. The more you listen to it, the more you discover, and the more there is to appreciate about it. Sure, there is the obvious theme of growing up in the suburbs, with direct content in the majority of the songs. Listen a little more closely, though, and you will hear another recurring theme: a new start. A little odd for a band like Arcade Fire, but perhaps some of the music on this album has evolved from a theme that began earlier in the band's career.

One of the first things that is noticeable when you listen to the album, start to finish, is the flow of the entire album. With some beautiful transitions from song to song, such as "Empty Room" to "City With No Children", there is nothing off-setting in the variety of pace and mood. A hard-rocking single like "Month of May", a song about a suburb affected by a severe wind storm, fits nicely between the sorrowful and pensive "Suburban War" and the innocent sweetness of "Wasted Hours".

With further listening, you notice the mix and mingle of lyrics from song to song. Not only are there some repeating sentiments (waste, war, wind), but there are instances of the same lyric appearing in more than one song, acting like continuous threads within the fabric of the album. In some cases, the thread is bold — the cops who appear in both "Sprawl I" and "Sprawl II" — and sometimes the thread is wispy and light, woven into two otherwise unrelated tunes — a passing car in "Suburban War" reappears in "Deep Blue".

There are a few songs that deviate from the theme of boredom and loneliness in the suburbs and they stand out both in this regard, as well as musically. "Empty Room", with its frenetic pace led by female vocals is a song of heartbreak with a driving drum beat. "Ready to Start" and "Modern Man" strike me as commentary on the music industry, the struggle between self-expression and imposed expectations. The strong bass line and auto-biographical nature of "Ready to Start" makes it a good candidate for the next song to strongly resonate with Arcade Fire fans. The skipped beat in "Modern Man" (with a sneaky reference in the lyric) makes it a catchy number.

In "City With No Children", Arcade Fire prove that a band can go through the three typical indie band phases of song-writing in one song: writing about relationships, sharing road stories, and using music to comment on the state of the world. With a lyric like "Do you think your righteousness could pay the interest on your debt?" and reference to millionaires in their private prisons, this song has more to do with morality than the suburbs.

A stand-out for me on this album is "Rococo". The song begins with a synth reminiscent of The Cure, and this same sound makes reappearances throughout the song. Synths are also used to represent a harpsichord (appropriate to the title) and 50’s Sci Fi movie music. All of the synth sounds are mixed and mingled, layered to create a rich listening experience, maintaining that 80’s feel. The vocals, guitar, and percussion slowly build as the song goes on, building to a rousing chant half-way through, that provides a rewarding sing-along experience. This is a very deceptive song; seemingly simple and stripped down, but the more you listen to it, the more layers you realize are mixing smoothly to create that sound.

Was anyone expecting some Bollywood from Arcade Fire? On one of many occasions of listening to the album in the car (the perfect venue for this music, if you ask me), I found myself doing some car dancing that involved some slightly East Indian hand movements and realized that the texture of "Half Light II" put me in the mind of a Bollywood musical.

Other highlights are the sentiment of "We Used To Wait" ("It may seem strange how we used to wait for a letter to arrive, but what's stranger still is how something so small can keep you alive"), the gorgeous vocals of "Sprawl II" (a song which has a very similar sound to a very obscure hit by a Swedish duo), and the comparison of our heads to houses in "Half Light I", a very catchy anthem-like tune.

Every listener will hear each track on this album through their own biases and history, making different comparisons, but there is no doubt that it will have everyone wanting to listen some more. Unlike a drive through the suburbs, this is a trip that you will want to take repeatedly.