Arcade Fire
The Suburbs



by WoebegoneWanderer USER (1 Reviews)
August 4th, 2010 | 24 replies

Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The inevitable fall, the sound of a band losing its direction and personality. Altogether, a dreary, exhausting riposte to the suburban monster.

The story of Arcade Fire’s career has been one of intrinsic regression. Neon Bible was a step back from the genre-defying modern fairytale that was Funeral, marrying its swirling bombast with a more refined and dare I say straightforward sound. In fact straightforward is a word that has gone hand in hand with the Fire’s third opus. If only. This is an exhausting, pummelling and suffocating album that leaves you crying for respite again and again throughout its sixteen tracks and sixty-four minute duration. And that is a real sixteen tracks. There are no interludes or partial ditties to be found here, save for a reprisal of the title track at the end. The Suburbs is trench warfare and marks a retreat from the personality and invention of Funeral and the refinement of Neon Bible. This is Arcade Fire’s first mis-step and it’s a mighty one.

Fittingly, the title track is illustrative of the album’s failings. Its melancholic, jangling keys and bopping refrain takes the band to new heights of radio-friendliness but the song is needlessly bloated, taking an awful long time to go not very far at all. With one or two exceptions, this ‘twelve rounds with Mike Tyson’ approach is the template for what is to come, only for any melodic qualities to be kicked out the side door on the way. Caveman rockers such as ‘Empty Room’ and ‘Month of May’ show that no amount of bluster can mask what are ultimately aimless and gormless attempts to change the album’s pace. If the balls out rockers are shallow, the slower elements are plodding in equal measure, forming The Suburbs modus operandi – a tame homage to Americana from days gone by. For the telegraphed chord changes of ‘Modern Man’ see the telegraphed chord changes of ‘City with No Children’. Set against Win Butler’s relentless chiding of the suburban monster, an album emerges that is entrenched within its repetitive subject matter. In this respect Butler has conveyed monotonous suburbia perfectly but it does not necessarily make for pleasant listening. Only on ‘Suburban War’ do they accomplish something approaching their ambition, a wistful slice of Simon and Garfunkel that has you coming back for more. It is a curious anomaly.

It is all the more curious because it is the only song that is allowed to breathe - which alludes to the quite dreadful production and The Suburbs ultimate failing. The album feels hollow and diminishes everything that made Funeral the low-fi explosion of the decade. You weren’t listening to a band on that album; you were listening to an orchestra, a diverse range of instruments working together in harmony with each component allowed to make its impression on the songs. The production here removes those important nuances. There are token aperitifs of strings here and there but they are lost in a sorry haze of impenetrable guitars. Even the lyrical language hopping is kept to a bare minimum, only fuelling the feeling that you are now just listening to another indie band. Worst of all, Win Butler becomes a diminished, cornered figure, enveloped by all that surrounds him. Maybe Butler is cornered, dismayed at the monster his band has become, defined by the whims of the faceless kids that jump from one bandwagon to the next. But he needs to come out fighting. Remember the Butler that cried so effusively that the power was out in the heart of man? It now seems like a distant memory. You can surmise to your heart’s content on what ground-breaking social commentary Butler is bringing to the table next, but it was his seismic energy and uninhibited passion that gave Arcade Fire the warmth and vigour that perfectly supplemented their multi-instrumentalism. This is what made them such a show-stopping band at first.

Ultimately, Arcade Fire desperately needs to rediscover their personality, and fast. With The Suburbs they have sent out a retort to all those who sought their pound of flesh. Unfortunately they have at best succeeded in creating a pale imitation of themselves and at worst have contrived to fulfil the massive indie-shaped hole that the mainstream has opened for them. ‘I would rather be wrong than live in the shadow of your song’ croons Butler at one point. Butler is wrong and is now living in the shadow of previous triumphs. This is a band that possesses an embarrassment of riches, two original and dynamic vocalists, a range of instruments that would make opera houses weep and an ability to make songs that turn into mini-operas, conveying the intimate setting of a campfire while taking our minds to incomprehensible landscapes – a truly cross-over band. But Jesus Christ, don’t keep it hid.

user ratings (2153)
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • robin EMERITUS (3.5)
    how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?...

    Tyler Fisher EMERITUS (4)
    Win Butler’s open letter to the white suburban kid works like a baseball bat to the head...

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

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

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

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

    Cragorio (4)
    Being trapped in the suburbs isn't necessarily a bad thing....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:Add a Comment 
August 4th 2010


I could understand maybe giving this a lukewarm 3, but a 2 is kind of ridiculous. It's definitely not a bad album

and they can't keep making Funeral over and over again, move on

August 4th 2010


well written, but wrong

August 4th 2010



August 4th 2010


Good review, but still way off.

Staff Reviewer
August 4th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

i happened to like this album, but i am glad to see a well-written opposing viewpoint

Digging: EL VY - Return to the Moon

August 4th 2010


this = 4
neon bible = 3.5728
funeral = 4.648395

August 5th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5

I can somewhat agree with this

August 5th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

You know, I thought about moving my rating down for this yesterday but after another listen, Sprawl (both parts) convinced me not to. Still, you hit the nail on the head with some of your criticism.

Digging: Laura Stevenson - Cocksure

August 7th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5

Good review! I agree with you. I've been bored and annoyed by the Suburbs. It sounds so forced. The lyrics are pedestrian as well. For me the fall of the Arcade Fire started after Funeral. Just like you explained. I mean what happened to this big band, to their musicianship, to their inspiration--they've been sounding so small and (bellow) average on the last two releases! There are 3 good songs on here: Sprawl 2, Half Light 2 and Rococo. The opening track is O.K. The rest just boring as hell. As a matter of fact, last night after playing The Suburbs I pulled out, for the first time after 5 years or more, Rancid's ...And Out Come The Wolves, because The Suburbs was just so, so tiring.

August 21st 2010


this is a good review

August 23rd 2010


I totally agree.

September 4th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

I felt the same way at first - totally unimpressed by the simple, poppy title track followed by a couple catchy mid-tempo songs.

However after listening to this several more times I started to love its depth (yes, depth) and morose crooning.

Although I'm still not all that sold on the female vocalist...

September 5th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5


September 5th 2010


you guys are crazy

September 5th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5

I'm just not as big on this band as most people here (and like everywhere else) are. Funeral is a really good album though.

September 11th 2010


This is the most masturbatory review that I have ever read. I don't know how someone could use a phrase like "Token aperitifs" and not feel a little bit of self-loathing. I think you heard the album as a colossal failure because you wanted to write an overly dramatic review about a colossal failure.

October 19th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

Well written review even if I couldn't possibly disagree more. The first four tracks on this album put to shame everything they've done before, their best work ever in my eyes, better than Funeral even. It dips ever so slightly in quality towards the second half, but the first half of this record is so fucking good, especially those first four tracks. Those songs alone vault this album up hugely in my eyes, shit this is starting to sneak up on Funeral in terms of quality IMO. Definitely think reviewer should give this another chance.

January 13th 2011


I'm still not entirely sure how to rate this album. I can certainly see where you're coming from on a lot of your points but I think they're exaggerated a little. I don't think it's a particularly great album, nor is it particularly bad - but I feel that this may change for me...I don't know. 2.5/3, I guess. This was a really, really good and ballsy review by the way. Pos.

January 13th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0


January 13th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

Good job with this review, I agree

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