August 8, 2010
New Music: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
I'll be the first to admit I was a disappointed when I heard that the new Arcade Fire album would be a concept album about the suburbs. The idea seems anachronistic and out of touch. Not only that, it's terribly obvious trope that's been done to death! But, then again, maybe that's the point.
The Suburbs is easily Arcade Fire's most nostalgic record and they're clearly aware of it. A good deal of the songs seem like they've been lifted from the 80s, particularly album's best moment (and only real idiosyncrasy -- The Suburbs is almost too cohesive), "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," an infectiously danceable anthem that sounds like Blondie beating up the Talking Heads. Another ear-worm, the dark and dizzying "Rococo" berates the "modern kids" who "seem so wild but . . . are so tame," and transforms what begins as an ominous chord progression into something that sounds almost liberating.
Some songs feel unnecessary, especially when you consider the album's length (16 songs, 64 minutes). But you can't blame the band for falling back on bombast. Nor can you really blame them for a self-serious exploration of nostalgia that at times feeds on the recesses of teen angst. This is what Arcade Fire do. This is why we like them. They don't demand much from their listeners, but somehow they seem terribly essential to the current musical landscape.
"Sometimes I can't believe it, I'm moving past the feeling," Win Butler sings on the title track (which opens and closes the album). Idea's have never been the band's strong suit, and lyrically Butler has always gone for the jugular. In the end, a grandiose feeling is all Arcade Fire have ever been able to conjure. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing; but perhaps this is why, for them, the Suburbs seem so inevitable.