Review Summary: Arcade Fire tries yet again to escape the "Neighborhoods."
In a heartless and unforgiving world, rock’s heaviest souls once again step in to save us all. Arcade Fire’s ambitious new album, "The Suburbs," places angst, isolation, and apologetic nostalgia into a melting pot, producing one of the richest trips in music of this year. The bulk of "The Suburbs" focuses on the quiet worry of adults who agonize over their wasted youth. The songs are hectic, but never overly complex, satisfying the blend of classic orchestral fringe and pulsating electro that fans fell in love with on their first and second albums.
Driving and distorted are words that cannot even begin to describe “Month of May,” Arcade Fire’s fearless new experiment. Electric guitars relentlessly slice every word of lead singer and lyricist, Win Butler, faintly combining the musical repetitiveness of the Ramones with the suffocating vocal choppiness of Joe Jackson. The song recalls Arcade Fire’s early single off of their first album, “Neighborhood #5 (Power Out),” where Butler fantasized about fleeing from the neighborhood and living a life of disobedience. In this track, he mentions the dangers of naivety through the lyrics, “So young, so young. So much pain for someone so young… But the kids are still standing with arms folded tight.”
“Empty Room” proves to be one of the band’s most significant contributions on the album. With a fast-paced rhythm controlled by an urgent violin, Butler and Régine Chassenge leisurely build energy within each verse, resulting in the song’s climatic chorus.
The title track acts as a sequel to the first song on Arcade Fire’s critically acclaimed album "Funeral." “The Suburbs” can be seen as an update decades later, with those same kids having children of their own, and moving back to and struggling in the same neighborhoods. It appears as though the past continues to hold a tight grip on Butler, as he desperately howls, “In my dreams we’re still screaming!”
Arcade Fire finds themselves in a deep struggle between staying loyal to their growing fan base and “selling out” to the music industry. “Ready To Start” confronts this dilemma head-on, with Butler affirming that Arcade Fire will refuse to conform to commercialism in spite of the expansion of their economic horizons. Hoping to continue being the band that won them praise in 2004, Butler sums up these feelings of resentment towards the music “businessmen” with his one liner, “I would rather be wrong than live in the shadow of your song.” Arcade Fire will always be known as a band that, while growing immensely in popularity, still sticks to the artistic formula that has gained them such success. Commercializing their music for money does not seem to be in the cards.
While the beginning and end of "The Suburbs" both contain exceptional songs, heightening their prestige as one of indie-rock’s greatest creations, the middle of their third LP contains filler that is rather unusual. “Deep Blue” serves as a narrative that falls short of its expectations. It is merely a boring track that could have easily been scrapped into a collection of B-sides. At times throughout “The Suburbs,” certain tracks, such as “Wasted Hours” and “We Used To Wait,” seem unnecessary to include within the album that only drag out and make the LP longer than it needs to be.
Just because the concerns of "The Suburbs" are ordinary, that does not make them any less real. With their third studio album Arcade Fire delivers a message that not only sedates grievances but also promises life clarity: “We’re in this together.”