The months of inevitable hype and speculation is over. Arcade Fire’s third full-length studio album, The Suburbs, has leaked, 11 days prior to its commercial release. I’ll say right now, I’ve already listened to this album 3 times in the past 12 hours and I’m pre-ordering it later today.
After the 00s came to a close and Funeral was hailed as a classic in the top of most critics ‘best of the 00’s’ lists, the expectations on Arcade Fire where always going to be high with whatever they did next. Neon Bible, a fine album in its own right, expanded their sound with the band making use of an organ, harp, accordion and supposedly, a choir. Although generally accepted by critics as a suitable follow up to Funeral (a score of 87 to Funeral’s 90, thank you Metacritic), some fans felt that the expansive instrumentation of Neon Bible diminished it’s emotional quality, which is what made Funeral such a powerful and enjoyable album. With The Suburbs, it sounds like Arcade Fire have tried to find a middle ground between the emotion of Funeral and the expansive sound of Neon Bible, and in my humble opinion they’ve succeeded.
In some ways, The Suburbs is perhaps their most expansive record yet, compiling of 16 tracks at nearly 64 minutes length. But the album never really seems to drag on, because every song has an enjoyable quality to it. In terms of sound, they’re not doing anything amazingly new or innovative with this record, but what makes it work is that it has its own distinct feel and atmosphere like their previous releases.
The Suburbs’ central theme is based on Frontman Win Butler and his brother William’s experiences of growing up in the suburban areas of the Woodlands, in Texas (Both Win and William were born in California, then raised in Texas. Win moved to Montreal in 2000). The album opens with its title track, a beautifully catchy opener with a terrific chorus. It’s a song of reminiscing past troubles with a partner, someone close. The opening lines ‘In the suburbs I, I learned to drive; and you told me we'd never survive, grab your mother's keys we're leaving’ suggest that it’s not a relative, perhaps a classic love story were a young couple in love escape their troubled past to live together in happiness etc. The second part of the verse, ‘You always seemed so sure that one day we'd be fighting; In a suburban war, your part of town against mine’ hints at tension between two ‘sides’, possibly parental disapproval. The chorus, ‘Sometimes I can't believe it; I'm moving past the feeling’ is the closuring part, the moving on and beginning a new chapter. The following song, ‘Ready to Start’, tells of a failed relationship between two people who have unresolved feelings towards each other, which possibly links to the previous story. By the end of the song, the protagonist is ready to resolve the issues between the two.
‘Modern Man’ and ‘Rococo’ are what I consider to be the only mildly, somewhat ‘weak spots’ of the album. They’re enjoyable songs, but they just don’t have the same energy as the first 2. The following track, ‘Empty Room’, is a catchy, incredibly energetic song with great vocal harmonies between Win and Regina. ‘City With No Children’ is a guitar driven, more personal song, with Win singing about his old home in Texas, ‘Dreamt I drove home to Houston, on a highway that was underground; There was no light that we could see, as we listened to the sound of the engine failing’.
I’m not going to go into every song in detail. Mainly because I’m too lazy, but also because I don’t need to. The Suburbs is such an immersive record, a journey in a way. It takes you through happiness and sadness, heartbreak in ‘We Used to Wait’ (‘So I never wrote a letter; I never took my true heart, I never wrote it down’) and humor in ‘The Month of May’ (‘I said some things are pure and some things are right; but the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight’). The highlights of the album for me are ‘Deep Blue’ and the two-parters, ‘Half Light I & II’ and ‘The Sprawl I & II’. The synthesizers in the second parts of both add a whole new dynamic to the album, a climax-like feel that almost splits the album into two parts, and does it wonderfully. The album finishes beautifully with ‘The Suburbs (continued)’, a reprise to how the album began, with Win and Regina again singing the words ‘Sometimes I can't believe it; I'm moving past the feeling’ in beautiful harmony. In the final track, Win chimes the words ‘If I could have it back; all the time that we’ve wasted’. I can assure you this album is not a waste of your time, all 64 minutes of it.