Release Date: Aug 3, 2010
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
It's common for heavily hyped albums to fall flat, but Arcade Fire's long-anticipated third LP hits with the satisfied thud of met potential. Ironic, then, that its conceptual crux is the frustrated expectations of youth. Ambitious as always, the Montreal indie heavyweights explore everything from identity formation to the soullessness of modern culture over the 16 genre-spanning tracks (and 8 different album covers).
“Sometimes I can’t believe it/ I’m moving past the feeling,” Win Butler sings a few moments into the winsome title track to Arcade Fire’s excellent third album, The Suburbs. We know that this guy is never “past” any feeling. He’s all feelings, all the time. Just a minute after singing that line, he worries about a suburban war and begs for a daughter to show “some beauty before all this is done.” It’s business as usual in Arcade Fire land after three years since releasing Neon Bible.
You can tell a lot about someone by their touchstone words. Key nouns, cropping up again and again, leave trails like psychic footprints. Some words that recur and ring through the work of [a]Arcade Fire[/a]: ‘kids’, ‘parents’, ‘car’, ‘town’, ‘city’, ‘house’, ‘home’.If ‘[b]Funeral[/b]’ celebrated neighbourhood origins and bristled with spiky youthful energies, and ‘[b]Neon Bible[/b]’ hit the highway in search of bigger dreams and bigger sounds, ‘[b]The Suburbs[/b]’ is about coming home to discover that it’s never the same as before you left.Rather than blustering, the album saunters in casually, gently placing out the terms of engagement over the easiest of piano and cosy bass.
Funeral was such a stunningly successful debut for Arcade Fire that it’s difficult to appreciate exactly how audacious it was. Here was this huge band, tackling huger themes with an earnest emotional bent that set them at odds with their coy and disaffected peers, with two singers, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, blowing out their voices over massive arrangements while most indie rockers were still muttering ironic sex-talk over fuzzy guitars. It shouldn’t have held together as well as it did, and as their less accomplished sophomore album, Neon Bible, demonstrated, the role that Arcade Fire had chosen was one they’d have to grow into.
Coming off the high concept of their epochal 2004 debut LP Funeral, Arcade Fire lost the plot a tad on 2007's Neon Bible. It meandered, and its bombast overwhelmed what at its core was a fine collection of songs. But on their third LP The Suburbs, they in a sense return to the form of Funeral, engendering a grand conceptual conceit. But while the overriding motif of Funeral was the neighborhood in a familial sense of support and nourishment, The Suburbs is concerned with more global issues.
This is not the album that’s going to break Arcade Fire worldwide, and thank God for that. You know that it’s a real risk too. Once your songs start showing up at the Olympics, in movies and on cable news shows trying to sound hip, well, we’ve all been here before. Remember Coldplay? Remember when they were kind of cool? I’m here to tell you we can all stop worrying about that, because the first thing that strikes any fan of the band listening to this album is that the edges are sharper, the melodies are more elusive, and the tone is one of loss and despair, which isn’t anything new, but in the past it felt like the band would just steamroll over the pain; now they sound more circumspect.
A few nights ago, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to write my review of Arcade Fire’s third album in real time. I would allot myself its not inconsiderable running length to bash out this article, whilst also, crucially, knocking back a finger of beer for each mention of “the kids” or “the suburbs” in Win Butler’s lyrics. This was obviously a terrible plan, and none of what was written must ever see the light of day.
A decade or three ago, Arcade Fire probably wouldn’t have needed the ”indie” appellation; they’d just be rock. Today, the grand, earnest Canadian collective is almost old-fashioned in its commitment to dense and deeply felt albums, the kind of passion projects that defy easy digestion but ultimately yield rich rewards. (Hence, perhaps, the professed Arcade fandom of names like Bono, David Bowie, and Peter Gabriel.) The band certainly aims for transcendence on The Suburbs — a work of impressively fervent majesty, even if nothing here moves them forward substantially from their enthralling 2004 debut, Funeral, and darker 2007 follow-up, Neon Bible.
Arcade Fire never aim for anything less than grand statements. That quality has played a huge role in making them very, very popular; it's also their greatest weakness. Funeral was wracked with agony and grief, but what made it one of the transcendent records of the 2000s was that it avoided easy answers. It proposed that the fight of our lives is just that, a fight, but a winnable one.
Montreal septet journeys into the flatlands In the annals of recent Important Rock Bands, the ‘90s had the self-destruction of Nirvana, the slacker ethos of Pavement and the glorious noise of Sonic Youth, and the early 2000s had the willfully obtuse experimentalism of Radiohead. We now live in the age of Arcade Fire, the Montreal conglomerate—comprised of husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, along with Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara—that in the last six years has stepped forward, willing and wholly assured that they’re the ones to carry such a title. They’ve made their intent known by album names alone: 2004 debut LP Funeral was followed three years later by Neon Bible.
Montreal’s Arcade Fire successfully avoided the sophomore slump with 2007’s apocalyptic Neon Bible. Heavier and more uncertain than their near perfect, darkly optimistic 2004 debut, the album aimed for the nosebleed section and left a red mess. Having already fled the cold comforts of suburbia on Funeral and suffered beneath the weight of the world on Neon Bible, it seems fitting that a band once so consumed with spiritual and social middle-class fury, should find peace “under the overpass in the parking lot.” If nostalgia is just pain recalled, repaired, and resold, then The Suburbs is its sales manual.
The husband and wife duo return with their third album. Arcade Fire are an ever-changing entity. After the success of ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’, ‘The Suburbs’ provides unequivocal proof that Win Butler and co are able to elucidate the acclaimed sound of old with an eagerness to experiment with early 80s electronica (‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’).
Arcade Fire’s seven members resemble an archetypal family. They grew up — on record, anyway — in the bittersweet nostalgia of small neighborhoods, remembering the bedrooms of their parents and the bedrooms of their friends; moved on to the bright lights of histrionic cities, trying to avoid it when the planes hit the ground; and now, migrated to the suburbs. (Where else does one go after producing Neon Bible, one of the decade’s more somber statements on existence?) But far from a comforting escape from all that came before, Arcade Fire’s suburbia is a lot like Cheever’s: menacing, shadowing the depression of lost innocence and the paranoia of adulthood behind a pretty white picket fence.
In 1998, Q magazine invited readers to vote for the 100 Best Albums of All Time. Twelve years on, the results offer an unwittingly hilarious glimpse into a lost world, where Ocean Colour Scene's Moseley Shoals was deemed superior to Exile on Main Street and Blood on the Tracks, Supergrass's In It for the Money comfortably outstrips The Velvet Underground Featuring Nico, and Otis Blue and What's Going On cannot hope to match the solid-gold soul classic that was All Change by Cast. If nothing else, it highlights the way some albums' reputations decline dramatically after a period of reflection.
Last year’s war of words between the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Arcade Fire front man Win Butler was, at the time, an enjoyable diversion. Although Coyne’s comments (about what he perceived as arrogance in Butler’s crew) seemed somewhat impolite and petty, the flare-up between the two acts injected some energy and fun into a modern rock scene that is too often stuffy and image-conscious. Butler responded, Coyne apologized then retracted his apology, and finally the whole affair died down.
Suburbia. To the people who grew up there and fled, it may represent the horror of tepid domesticity or the lush lawns of nostalgia – or both. Some people leave and return to reclaim the territory for their own, at the risk of recreating the conditions that inspired flight in the first place. On Arcade Fire’s highly anticipated third album, songwriter Win Butler – who grew up in an idyllic small town in California – depicts the suburbs as a sweet utopia in danger of crumbling before our eyes, imbued with an innocence that is worth preserving.
Since the 2004 release of Funeral, Arcade Fire have been thrust into the unenviable position of anthemic indie rock flag bearers, equally celebrated by critics and blasted by Pitchfork-haters as the biggest, softest target available. Even the band’s second full-length, Neon Bible, could barely escape the crush of expectation and scrutiny that it endured when it was finally released in 2007. Three years later, The Suburbs pulls back much of the meandering songwriting and garbled wall-of-sound production that marred most of Neon Bible; it’s not perfect, but its moments of clarity make it worth the trip.
A complex, captivating work that retains its magic and mystery several plays later. Mike Diver 2010 If 2007’s Neon Bible was supposed to be Arcade Fire’s difficult second album, it didn’t show. Top marks from a cavalcade of critical tomes saw the Montreal septet’s sequel to their breakthrough debut long-player of 2004, Funeral, received with just as much reverence as its predecessor.
It’s clear from the very direct and very forceful explosion in “Suburban War” that there is no shying away from the torrid subject. You’d almost be mistaken for assuming it was another song with just how crystal clear the breaking point is. And in many ways, after explaining the rudimentary movements of our lives (jumping over the fence to run away from her, growing your hair simply because you want to) in detailing what exactly these suburbs are, there would be nowhere else to turn but battle.