August 8, 2010

New Music: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Before that inevitable backlash begins and latest album from Arcade Fire gets written off as another mainstream indulgence, it should be said (indeed, it has already been said dozens of times) that The Suburbs is a good, if not great, album. A bit bloated? Sure. Heavy-handed? Of course! But at least Arcade Fire are willing to take those risks, and here, for better or worse, they do so without flinching. At least we can all agree on the obvious fact (obvious to me, at least) that the new Arcade Fire album isn't as good as Funeral, but is a good deal better than their overwrought sophomore album, Neon Bible.

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.

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    "They [Christian hipsters] are sooner found at Radiohead or Arcade Fire concerts than at Christian music shows...." -- Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide

    Hipster Christianity-When Church and Cool Collide -- Brett McCracken
    September 01, 2010


    "Wake Up" includes the lyric:

    Children, wake up
    Hold your mistake up
    Before they turn the summer into dust

    "Rebellion (Lies)" includes the lyric:

    Sleeping is giving in
    No matter what the time is
    Sleeping is giving in
    So lift those heavy eyelids

    "My son, obey your father's commands, and don't neglect your mother's
    teaching. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your
    neck. Wherever you walk, their counsel can lead you. When you sleep, they
    will protect you. When you wake up in the morning, they will advise you."
    (Proverbs 6: 20-22)

    "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our
    salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." (Romans 13:11)


    John Legend & The Roots perform Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" (recorded
    September 23, 2010) directed by Spike Lee for Unstaged.

    Arcade Fire performing "Wake Up" (Aug. 5/10, Madison Square Garden)

    Wake Up [Song Meanings]
    A Neon Bible Study
    by David Buckna

    Arcade Fire:
    Sermon by John Van Sloten (New Hope Church, Calgary, Alberta)

    Jesus at The Arcade Fire concert
    by JVS on Sep.27, 2010

    Chapter 1, Free!

    The Day Metallica Came to Church:
    Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything