Arcade Fire
The Suburbs


4.0
excellent

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
July 27th, 2010 | 750 replies | 85,230 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Win Butler’s open letter to the white suburban kid works like a baseball bat to the head, a relentlessly honest manifesto backed by relentlessly crafty pop music.

Funeral, Arcade Fire’s debut album, makes a strong case for being the most important indie album of the past decade. Not only did it win over an entire subculture, it also established an entire subgenre of indie music. Call Sufjan Stevens the forebear of the modern resurgence of baroque pop all you want, but Funeral came one year before Illinois (no one cared about Michigan until after the fact), and Funeral is a better album than either of Sufjan’s albums anyway. Arcade Fire created a wave of inspiration they surely never anticipated and raised expectations for further releases to unattainable heights, which is why Neon Bible probably seemed like a kick in the face to many of their eager, supposedly loyal fans. Despite general commercial and critical acclaim (or perhaps because of it), the music blogosphere, much larger and feistier than Arcade Fire may have remembered it in 2004, backlashed. The community that Funeral united gathered once again, picked up pitchforks (pun intended) and charged. The Suburbs is, essentially, frontman Win Butler’s defense mechanism.

On The Suburbs, Butler’s lyrical attacks on his deserters are direct bludgeons, best summarized in the verses of “Rococo”, where by verse he breaks down the progression of Arcade Fire’s fanbase. First, Butler insults their intelligence for even enjoying Funeral: “Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids/They will eat right out of your hand/Using big words that they don’t understand.” Second, he bemoans their belittling tactics after Neon Bible: “They build it up just to burn it back down/The wind is blowing the ashes all around/Oh my dear God what is that horrible song?” Finally, he attempts to show these hipster bastards what they really are, which is essentially what The Suburbs does: “They seem wild but they are so tame/They're moving towards you with their colors all the same/They want to own you but they don't know what game they're playing.” In the end, Butler should come off as the proverbial cranky old man screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. But god damn, The Suburbs is a prize-winning, finely tuned botanical garden, and Butler has every right to say whatever he pleases to his trespassers.

The music on The Suburbs is as direct and straightforward as Butler’s lyrics. While Neon Bible also employed this style of songwriting, The Suburbs feels matured and spacious in all the places where Neon Bible seemed tepid and tentative. “Empty Room” begins like the opening of an exciting overture, only to expand into an upbeat rock song driven not only by a pulsating backbeat but also by rapid violin arpeggios, kept in check by Butler and wife Régine Chassagne’s airy, inspired duet. Similarly, while the standard song structure and harmonic cadences keep the song grounded, the sound of Arcade Fire firing on all cylinders in this environment bridges the gaping hole between Funeral and Neon Bible. B-side of the title track single, “Month of May”, keeps the song stripped down to a standard rock song instead of embellishing the standard structures with symphonic stylings. To complement the musical style, Butler and Chassagne trade their beautifully harmonized vocals for angular shouts. This attention to atmospheric detail, matched with the lyrical content, makes The Suburbs a well-executed, straightforward rock album instead of a banal sellout.

Still, the album contains nuances inside its simple structure. “Modern Man” subtly alternates between phrases of nine and phrases of eight in its verses, enough to make the over-analytical music critic squee with delight. The alternation is just one example of the intricate phrasing structures Arcade Fire puts into many of their songs, including “We Used to Wait” and “Suburban War”, that keep the engaged listener on his or her toes and playfully avoid boring songwriting. Equally deft, Butler’s vocal melodies weave through these rhythmic eccentricities easily, giving the songs the air of control so desperately needed for a successful pop song (for the uncomfortable flipside, see Maya).

Where the album falters is in its bloated weight. The sixty-four minute album is a bit much, and one has to wonder whether “Wasted Hours” might have served better on their inevitable B-sides collection, or if the build from “Half Light I” into its second section could have been condensed and still had the same resplendent effect. Still, the best moments of the album--“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, “Suburban War”, “Empty Room”--demonstrate that Arcade Fire still have some of that magic encapsulated so perfectly in Funeral, and they may just enchant the entire indie music world once more. If only more people would get off Win Butler's lawn.



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user ratings (1872)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Cragorio (4)
    Being trapped in the suburbs isn't necessarily a bad thing....

    urnamz2longfixit (4)
    Cut the lights, crawl into your bed, play this and enjoy....

    sulky (4.5)
    shots from the hippo....

    YetAnotherBrick (5)
    Arcade Fire's The Suburbs is a near-flawlessly put together concept album, revolving aroun...

  • Alec Martin (5)
    Is it Album of the Year? Hell yes....

    NigelH (5)
    2009, 2010. Wanna make a record how I felt then....

    Chris Baranowski (4)
    Both timeless and contemporary, urgent and meditative, The Suburbs is an important step fo...

    Chris Davanzo (4)
    Arcade Fire tries yet again to escape the "Neighborhoods."...

  • rmill3r (4)
    The Suburbs is beautiful and grand, just like you'd expect from them so far. It may come d...

    Ciaran McManus (4)
    Although at times it loses itself, The Suburbs is an immersive and rewarding experience...

    Mike Madden (4)
    Yet another excellent record from the "indie heroes."...

    Dominic Mercurio (4)
    An album with heart. It’s not drastically different from their previous work, but feels...

  • WoebegoneWanderer (2)
    The inevitable fall, the sound of a band losing its direction and personality. Altogether,...

    robin EMERITUS (3.5)
    how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?...


Comments:Add a Comment 
FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

point/counterpoint

bailar11
July 27th 2010



2433 Comments


enrique approves

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

How long does it take the front page to refresh christ

Gyromania
July 27th 2010



14646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

^ yeah I often say the same. Excellent review, I agree

Kiran
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



5992 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

the more i listen to this album, the more i realize i am genuinely in love with it

some of the lyrical stuff feels like a bit of a reach though. butler singing about 'the modern kids' and 'the modern man' is all well and good but i dont see the album as some scathing critique of hipster culture (maybe a jibe or two) though obviously thats very much up for interpretation, as evidenced by yours and adams reviews. was there some interview or statement or anything that talks about butlers gripe with hipsters/fans?



conradtao
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I read the lyrics on this album as more of a desire to expand beyond their current fanbase, hence the use of a suburbs metaphor, with the desire to "get away from sprawl".

AggravatedYeti
July 27th 2010



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

man I really love this album.
I mean not like that wasn't assured or anything

robin
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



4221 Comments


the more i listen to this the more i don't care that win butler is a meanie

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



3752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, im keen on this analysis. I think you touch on the big reason I like this so much - despite the fact that it's so seemingly straightforward, theres so much subtlety, a string arrangement here, an understated melody there... eveyrtime I think I'm about to phaze out, something grabs.

Digging: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Days Of Abandon

AggravatedYeti
July 27th 2010



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

its all about tension
and i fucking love it.

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ugh gonna keep bumping

jingledeath
July 27th 2010



7104 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sprawl II is soo cute

BallsToTheWall
July 27th 2010



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I was pissed off at Regine's downplayed role on the last album i'm glad she sings more here.

jingledeath
July 27th 2010



7104 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

title track?

H61
July 27th 2010



270 Comments


City With No Children and Suburban War are my favorites

Crowe
July 27th 2010



435 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

woo it's med sud i eyrum vio spilum endalaust round 2

who brought the popcorn?

conradtao
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

>my face when you bothered to type out med sud i eyrum vio spilum endalaust

Crowe
July 27th 2010



435 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

nah bro, c&p that shit

conradtao
Emeritus
July 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh well then

Shrapnel94
July 27th 2010



2213 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This album just keeps growing more and more on me. I might have to bump this to a 4.5.

Also, fantastic review.



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