james debate
james debate

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Genre Indie rock
Label Merge
Producer Markus Dravs
Release Date August 2nd

arcade fire suburbs

Some bands struggle with the burden of expectation after a successful debut album; some withdraw, produce underwhelming followups, and some don't even try. Then there's Arcade Fire who followed up their massively acclaimed debut Funeral with Neon Bible, which was an even bigger commercial success, if not as warmly received by the critics. Their latest offering dials down the ambitious larger than life undertones from their earlier work in favour of more grounded and emotionally resonant meaning. Read on for our review of The Suburbs.

Arcade Fire are known for being one of the most creative and undeniably talented bands around; the band plays 13 instruments between them and dabbles in many genres and styles. But I'm going to be honest here for a minute and say that although I liked both their first two albums when experienced as a whole, there were only a couple of songs that I would describe as great in their own right. I would also say that previously I was not such a fan of RĂ©gine Chassagne's vocal stylings, and preferred the songs where husband/frontman Win Butler took the lead. After listening to the first EP released from this album featuring the decent but underwhelming title track and an instantly forgettable b-side, I can't say I was especially optimistic for this one.

Well the band have done something that doesn't happen very often and convinced me to take back all those criticisms I may have had. Their third album The Suburbs is their best work yet with a number of very good songs that range in style from the familiar to the completely different.

As the name implies, this album is an ode to the middle class grind. Now this is hardly a groundbreaking concept, but few bands have managed to hit the nail so cleanly on the head. Not since Springsteen has an album so finely captured the angst and frustration of mediocrity, of untapped potential and repressed emotion, and the ever present need to simply escape.

This feeling of ennui is embodied by the eponymous opening track The Suburbs, a song full of desperation and jangly pianos. The album takes an introspective turn next with Ready to Start, a song awash with cynicism and contempt for the weight of expectation (something Arcade Fire know all too much about).

One of the best songs on the album, Modern Man, completes the strong start to the album. This song takes the energy level down a notch and achieves something that Arcade Fire have never been particularly fond for in the past, understatement. Sounding more like a lost Tom Petty single, Modern Man combines gentle folk-rock with a seething angsty undertone which only intermittently pokes it's head out to breath.

The album drops in quality somewhat through the middle of the album with songs that are decent but mostly non noteworthy. That being said, Half Light II, Wasted Hours, and Deep Blue are all worth a listen. Fortunately things pick up towards the end again in a big way with We Used to Wait. This is classic Arcade Fire, dark and brooding, full of complex melodies and staccato chords.

Up until this point the Suburbs has been quietly building. We've been taken on a tour of a world full of pent up frustration, crushed dreams and repressed longing, a world where the yearning for escape keeps simmering and bubbling until it simply can't take anymore. The penultimate song on the album, Sprawl II, is the big release. An explosive and brilliant track, Sprawl II carries a strong 1980s Blondie vibe and takes Chassagne's vocals to a level of excellence I never thought possible. This is an absolutely perfectly pitched climax for the thematic undercurrents pervasive throughout this album, and arguably the best song of the bunch.

If I have one major criticism with this album it's that it's too long. While there are a number of good songs, there is also a lot of filler. At a time when most bands these days have opted to release their albums at around 10 or 11 songs long, cutting out the chaff, one wonders if they couldn't have streamlined experience by removing a few of the less notable tracks, as indeed they did with their first two albums.

Overall, this is perhaps the best Arcade Fire album yet, with as many good songs as the first two albums had put together, and songs which rank up there with previous classics like Rebellion and Wake up.

Must Listen
Sprawl II

Modern Man

We Used to Wait

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