Photograph by Eric Kayne

Perhaps as a result of the build-up and massive amounts of hype, I approached my first listen of The Suburbs with a bit of caution and cynicism. Right around ‘Deep Blue’, after questioning why a chess-playing computer was being name-dropped, I was feeling a little unsure of the album. Whereas Funeral and Neon Bible strived for an anthemic sound, The Suburbs takes a more low-key approach. While not as immediate as its predecessors, The Suburbs is likely the band’s most cohesive album to date.  Going beyond the mere mention of the suburbs in nearly every song, the recurring themes of growing up and looking back on your childhood prove remarkably resonant on subsequent listens. Learning to drive is referred to several times. It’s one of the first true examples of independence from our youth, and even if the end result is just driving around and around and around, as vocalized by Win Butler on ‘Month of May’, that small taste of freedom brings back pleasant memories.

The record is largely based on Win and Will Butler’s childhood growing up in Texas, and though it acts as a criticism of suburbia and fond remembrance of the past, the latter is favoured, even idealized. The cliché “You can’t go home again” comes to mind. ‘We Used to Wait’ serves as a commentary on the fast-paced modern world, offering letter-writing as something we’ve lost to technology. Taking the metaphor even further, how many people waited until the release date to listen to this album? Coming to grips with the modern world is another recurring theme, notably the modern kids of ‘Rococo’. ‘Sprawl I’ and ‘Sprawl II’ take aim at the encompassing problem of urban sprawl. As Régine asks for darkness, I have to smirk, as there’s a RONA down the street from me that completely flushes out the night sky.

Arcade Fire – We Used to Wait
Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

As suggested earlier, the band has simplified musically. Neon Bible was marked by excess, be it the massive pipe organ, the hurdy-gurdy, or the Hungarian men’s choir, and I think the rawer sound serves the band better. Minus the increase in production values, it’s almost a return to the style of their self-titled EP. The most notable addition is Win playing the piano, used to great effect on the title track and the aforementioned ‘We Used to Wait’. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ manages to hit harder than ‘Haïti’, and should take its place as Régine’s signature song. Something about the electro-background clashing with the drudgery of working life just hits the spot.

Beyond the lyrical, musical, and thematic analysis, is The Suburbs a good album? The answer is an emphatic yes. Is it a little long? Perhaps. Is it better than Funeral or Neon Bible? That remains to be seen. Having listened to the album an almost ridiculous amount of times in the past few days, I can say there is substantial staying power and growth potential. I’m even warming to ‘Deep Blue’.

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— , August 5, 2010    Comments Off on Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
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