September 6, 2010
A quick browse through most reviews for Arcade Fire’s newest – The Suburbs – reveals an ironically short-sighted focus on the sounds within. Sure, they’ve been listening to some Depeche Mode to go with their Springsteen influence. Sure, they’ve got some cool arpeggiating synths and a leaner, tougher sound. Sure, its a welcome left turn after the heavy-handed bombast of Neon Bible and youthful yelp of Funeral.
But what about the underlying forces moving this record. Shortened attention spans in a tech-mad world? Lets choose We Used To Wait as our first single and reminisce about writing letters through the mail. Everyone talking about singles and the death of the ‘album’? Lets release a 16-song concept album about the very geographic phenomenom at the root to society’s current shortcomings.
The heart of this album is, surprisingly, hopefulness. Win Butler is calling out for a more meaningful existence, for deeper connections, and some sense of rightfulness in a society slipping further into sectarianism.
“Now our lives are changing fast. Hope that something pure can last.”
Half Light II (No Celebration) calls out “Some people say we’ve already lost. They’re not ready to pay the cost.” Later summed up “One day they’ll see its long gone.”
And my favorite, a gentle swipe at Seth Godin, or his lackey Bob Lefsetz: “The music divides us into tribes… you choose your side and I’ll choose mine.”
Alienation from a world that lacks a meaningful centre – “They keep changing all the names of the streets I grew up on.”
A call for purpose instead of posturing – “The kids are still standing with their arms folded tight. I know its heavy, I know it ain’t light, but how you gonna lift it with your ams folded tight.”
Its not all a cohesive, barbed and reflective trip down childhood memory lane – but given the subject matter, its oddly fitting that there are a few dud songs. Cul-de-sacs of incomplete ideas (Sprawl I) and, well admittedly, the never-ending references to ‘the suburbs’ and ‘sprawl’ get a little monotonous. Maybe thats the point? If so, its a clever way to diffuse criticism.
Oddly, its the most specifically topical songs which fall the flattest – “The Suburbs”, “Suburban War” and “Sprawl I” all lack the reflective immediacy and swagger otherwise dominating the album. Its as if the concept ultimately got imposed onto an otherwise impressive and cohesive song-cycle.
The raw urgency of Ready To Start, Half Light II, Month Of May and Sprawl II contain new magic for a band that could’ve rested on its laurels and proven formula.
So yeah, sure, there’s a different sound. But this isn’t a band dealing with the shallow surface, so its a disservice to the very nature of art to approach this album on such shallow terms. Its time to move downtown in your listening.