Review Summary: An album with heart. It’s not drastically different from their previous work, but feels a bit more mature.
Arcade Fire release their third disappointment-free, uplifting and melancholy album in an appropriately grim time in human existence. When Win Butler chants out “2009, 2010, wanna make a record how I felt then” on “Month of May” it can feel a little direct – but you believe every word of it. I have to admit I usually am not drawn early on in listening to an albums lyrics as I tend to focus almost solely on the sounds. This album was a bit different for me.
Upon hearing the opening track “The Suburbs” released ahead of the albums release, I began to find a connection much closer with the lyrics which in turn led the music to become one of my favorite Arcade Fire song I’ve heard. Not a bad way to kick off an hour long emotional journey of an album. Win simply and sincerely calls out “I wanna daughter while I’m still young / I wanna hold her hand / show her some beauty before this damage is done”. A moment of overlooking dread in the mostly happy sounding jangle about the past and state of the present. It’s a strong sentiment to tap into the feeling of ‘we really might be ***ing this up’ of our modern world.
The albums overall feeling to me is a longing for what we once had. Simplicity. appropriately the album feels much more intimate and human then the bombastically massive sound of Neon Bible. The drumming is primal, and straightforward, the strings come in only when needed and feel much more important, and the guitar ranges from folky to crunchy. Some of these songs would baffle a new fan who was told Arcade Fire is 7 people (and more live). The album has more range and is better for it. You still get your massive epic cloud-parting moments like the coda of “Rococo” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, but it’s the range that intimate and quiet songs like “Sprawl I (Flatland)” and “Wasted Hours” bring that paints a lot of imagery into Arcade Fire’s refined and mature hour on the whole of “The Suburbs”.
As the cover art would suggest, this album has a late-70′s vibe. In interviews for the album, Win and Regine had talked about how this album is about how they felt growing up. It most definitely has that sound, but I would argue what they have truly done is made the album about growing up in our modern world. Young adults in 2010 have a strange sense of wanting the unattainable past that our older generations once experienced. The simplicity and naive feeling of not being treated like cash cows milked by advertisement and technology. “We Used To Wait”, my personal favorite song off the album, sums up my version of the albums message best. A song describing the feeling of waiting as if its a foreign language. Well its undoubtedly true. What do we wait for anymore" I certainly didn’t have to wait as long for this album as the release date claimed. We don’t have to wait more then a couple minutes for a morning latte, mail can be sent with a click of a button, and human connection can be done without leaving your computer desk. Lines like “I used to write letters / I used to sign my name… I used to sleep at night”, “now our lives are changing fast / hope that something pure can last”, and “it may seem strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive / but whats stranger still – is how something so small can keep you alive” . It’s basically every line of the song, but this album connects to a level of humanity that is simply dying out. the strong full chorus that finally arrives about halfway through the song has some serious weight and becomes the loudest moment on the album without actually being the loudest.
If you were to really try and pick out some weaknesses of this stellar album, It would first be apparent that it could have used a bit more editing. The album runs at a little more than an hour, but doesn’t quite seem like it needs to. A couple of the weaker songs could have been released as B-sides and made this a 40-50min more streamlined album. Also, the album won’t surprise critics of Arcade Fire, it sounds similar to their previous work – and fans (like me) would have also enjoyed more of a change of pace for the band. The band do basically find their way into their first almost full-on disco song with the synth-heavy “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Regine sings “Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock” with her extremely strong singing voice. It comes at nearly the end of the album, and you’ll wish she sang on more of the songs.
The album ends with a short, quiet, and subtle moment that acts like a coda for the title track “The Suburbs”. Win sings “If I could have it back / all the time that we wasted; I would only waste it again / waste it again and again and again”. Perhaps he’s right. Because the first thing I did was start the album over again…and again.