September , 2010
Review by Steve Taylor
Label: Merge Records
With their third full-length release, The Suburbs, Arcade Fire once again return to its conceptual roots that played out brilliantly on their début album, Funeral. This time around, the theme of death is replaced by life in suburbia, or the lack of it. Why the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne decided to explore the inner world of the bedroom community concept is anyone’s guess, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
The Suburbs, in Arcade Fire’s world, are populated by zombie-like adults who drive around and around but never get anywhere. They spend their lives waiting in lines with their modern kids who “will eat right out of your hand / using great big words that they don’t understand.” The landscape the lyrics portray is bleak, yet you’re drawn in by the hypnotic sounds the band creates. Lines like “Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains / and there’s no end in sight”, don’t exactly paint a pretty picture of these neighbourhood outposts. And that’s the point – life isn’t perfect despite the appearances you vainly try to portray.
The opening title track manages to sound almost happy while Butler sings of children screaming and bombs falling. From that point on, the album is filled with lush and dreamy music that on first listen belies the ominous overtones of the lyrics. On most tracks, the music starts quietly with synth-induced sounds laying the groundwork for the almost frantic explosion of guitars and drums that follows. Meanwhile, Butler and his wife Regine harmonize beautifully on tracks like “Empty Room” and “Half Light II (No Celebration)”.
Musically, this recording is probably the band’s most accessible album to date. Yes, the Canadian’s vision of life outside the city is vapid and terse. But if this is how Win and his wife view the world outside the big city, then more power to them. The lush music they’ve created more than makes up for the somber mood that resonates throughout the record. Make no mistake. This may not be a stellar effort on Arcade Fire’s part lyrically, but their musical interpretation mare than makes up for their insight into the ‘burbs.