I have some serious respect for a band like Arcade Fire. Their willingness to remain on independent labels and make the music they wanna make is admirable. I liken their distaste for mainstream backing to Radiohead’s anti-commercial attitudes. Radiohead, despite this, has become one of the most respected bands on the globe and in many ways has achieved “Beatles of my generation” status. Arcade Fire similarly is approaching such notoriety. Just like ‘OK Computer’ was the moment critics and listeners alike took a step back and said “woh…what are we listening to here”; I have a feeling similar sentiment will be heaped upon Arcade Fire following their 3rd release ‘the Suburbs’. Unfortunately we are beyond the age of album release hype and big sales…and in a society obsessed with numbers and sales, I get the feeling we won’t easily give any band such clout; even one as talented and moving as Arcade Fire.
Now the latest AF album is not as vast a departure or shift in mood that ‘OK Computer’ was for Radiohead…but it is impressive that they have been able to improve upon the formula and sound that has brought them acclaim to this point. They had no so called “sophmore slump”, nor do they seem to have the capability of “three times the harm”. This is their best album, easily. I gathered this opinion on a first listen. They took the energy and mock-catchiness of ‘Funeral’, threw it in a pot with the dystopian/apocalyptic sounds of ‘Neon Bible’ and made a tighter, less taxing album with ‘Suburbs’. They take a similar concept of the boredom and disgust of suburban lifestyle mixed with the a message of how societies hopes and dreams have crumbled under superficiality. The album opens with something almost poppy, but again it’s that mock-pop. It’s sad, beautiful, catchy, and FTW enough to make anyone smile:
So you’re standin’ on the opposite shore
But by the time the first bombs fell
We were already bored
We were already, already bored
By track 4 “Rococo” captures everything that was brilliant about ‘Neon Bible’ and perfects it. Whereas ‘Neon Bible’ seemed to beat that depressing sound into the ground and grew tiresome by the end of its run, ‘The Suburbs’ takes just enough of that and mixes it with a more hopeful as well as aesthetic sound. ‘Neon Bible’ makes me mad, makes me want to cry…’The Suburbs’ makes me say “thank you that somebody else feels like I do while also being fabulous musicians and songwriters”. From there the journey is very similar to Arcade Fire’s first outings, just slightly more focused and impactful. The greatest strength of ‘Suburbs’ is its ability to stay fresh, whereas both ‘Funerals’ and ‘Neon Bible’ are tough listens front to back. This is made strongly evident by the nearly electronica closer “Sprawl II”. The track would be out of place had it been in the middle of the album, but it is powerful as a melancholic synth driven conclusion:
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
You got that right.
If I have to give the album a score…..9.5/10.
VO review is back. Thank you readers.