Arcade Fire – The Suburbs, Album Review


Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Arcade Fire and Spoon show in NYC or The Suburbs on 2xVinyl and CD + Mirror Noir Deluxe Edition2xDVD ?



Grab your hats, oh suburban youth, for the album that cures your boredom is here. Well, let me immediately backtrack. It doesn’t cure your boredom per se; The Suburbs isn’t a silver bullet to end the monotony of another weekend stuck in the cul-de-sac. It’ll sure dull the pain, though. It’s an album that says “We’ve been there” and “We turned out alright” and “We’re not quite sure how, either.”

The Suburbs hits all the right notes, and some of them more than once. Over its hour-plus run-time the album has more luscious peaks than most artists’ entire catalogs. The word epic is overused, but there’s really no other way to describe songs like “City With No Children,” “Half Light I,” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” Soaring guitars, orchestral support, multi-voiced choruses, catchy hooks – Arcade Fire has the formula for grandeur down pat. Where other bands (see: Mumford & Sons) might overuse that alchemy, Arcade Fire’s immensity never seems forced or false. This is a band that has the right to earnestly tug at our heartstrings.


Puzzlingly, The Suburbs kicks off (and ends) with its weakest track, the tune for which the album is named. “The Suburbs” is an MGMT b-side that should never have seen the light of day, let alone the introductory spot of the album. It’s a ponderous and heavy-handed five minutes to open a record that already borders on the sprawl it so maligns; cut the two “The Suburbs” tracks, and you have a nearly flawless album. As it is, we wait a full eight minutes before Win Butler finally proclaims that he is “Ready To Start.”

After that misstep, though, The Suburbs is an unstoppable epic, a grandiose tribute to the mundane world. Never a band to beat around the bush, Arcade Fire pounds themes home repeatedly across the album’s sixteen tracks. Homes, cars, and windows – the images seen each of the album’s eight covers – abound, as do the familiar Arcade Fire references to kids. Even if you’re listening with half an ear, you’ll get the themes of The Suburbs. Christ, a quick glance at the track list will give you that: “The Suburbs,” “Suburban War,” “Empty Room,” “City With No Children,” “Sprawl,” “Sprawl II,” “The Suburbs (continued).” You get the point.

What’s more intriguing than the mere presence of these figures, perhaps, are the worlds Arcade Fire constructs with them. At times, the band takes the side of children looking to escape; more than once Butler urges us to “grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving.” Elsewhere, he sides with staying put – “All the kids have always known that the Emperor wears no clothes, but they bow down anyway, because it’s better than being alone.” On “Month of May,” he yells at the kids for being stand-offish, saying “I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light, but how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?” On “City With No Children,” those ubiquitous kids go missing.

The Suburbs is perhaps the most coherent schizophrenic you will ever meet, for though the guidance offered in its songs may be contradictory, the subject matter is never under discussion. Maybe that’s the point – that no matter which direction we turn, there’s no escaping the onset of modern suburbia and all that it entails. “I wonder if the world’s so small that we can never get away from the sprawl, living in the sprawl. Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains.”

It’s a desperate outlook from a band that gave us songs like “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Wake Up.” By all counts, The Suburbs is the group’s most somber album yet, dwelling on darkness, wasted hours, and endless, inescapable monotony. But don’t lose hope, oh suburban youth, because Arcade Fire wouldn’t have it any other way: “If I could have it back, all the time we wasted, you know I’d only waste it again.” Besides, who knows? The Suburbs may someday inspire you to make a beautiful record. Words by Chris Barth.

89 — [Rating Scale]

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