Where do you start with an album like this? Key themes would be: extraordinary amounts of Bruce Springsteen influence, it being not the kind of album you would expect from the Arcade Fire, how incredibly long it seems, mentions of ‘the suburbs’ in almost every song and the completely different experiences the first 3-5 listens will provide you with.
It’s probably best to say why, at first approach, ‘The Suburbs’ is a surprise. Nowhere near the morbidity of ‘Funeral’ or the conspiratorial paranoia of ‘Neon Bible’, it rolls along with a broader step and a more relaxed pace. This could be confused for a calmer, more laidback album, but when you get used to each track the extra dimensions appear: the upbeat bass riff and jovial harmonies of ‘City With No Children’ invaded by that Montreal tension with lyrics of “did you think your righteousness could pay the interest on your debt? / I have my doubts about it” and “A garden left for ruin by and by / as I hide inside of my private prison“. These are not quite the barnstorming potential singles comparable to ‘Keep The Car Running’, ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ or ‘Wake Up’, but there is a hell of a lot more to enjoy. ‘Half Light I’ is 4 minutes of brooding dark which won’t go down well as they headline Leeds Festival this year, but for those who believe there is an element of art left in pop music it is a sigh of relief.
Then ‘Half Light II (No Celebration)’; the counterpart which sums up so much of the album. Full of soaring Springsteen guitar and keyboard lines with Butler echoing urban loss and ageing: ‘Now that San Francisco’s gone / I guess I’ll just pack it up‘. Together with ‘Modern Man’, this track shows such heavy influence from the master of US rock whilst adding so much of the Candians’ own sound: this is still the Arcade Fire at their best.
‘The suburbs’ are continually introduced as a theme: as entrapment, safety, a vision of innocent life of the young or tainted by war and death. This contributes so much to the variety of the album’s sound it cannot be ignored. It is a step out from the highly urbanised ‘Neon Bible’ which is away from a sinister state but also away from safety. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, an epic, stand out track which sees the Arcade Fire meet Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’, captures the uncertainty of this movement: “Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small / That we can never get away from the sprawl‘.
Add into this ‘Month of May’, ‘We Used to Wait’ and ‘Ready to Start’ as brilliant tracks full of Arcade Fire energy and countless other moments that will make you swoon. The length is not so much an issue after you are accustomed to the album, it is a beautiful and enjoyable 65 minutes with wildly different approaches to pop music which most artists would fail to contemplate in a lifetime. ‘The Suburbs’ reasserts The Arcade Fire as the best band in the world and of the century so far. It really does make you wonder why we ever questioned them.
The Suburbs is out now on Mercury records and you can purchase a limited 12″ of lead single ‘The Suburbs’, also out now. For more information about the band click here. You can also check out the band performing ‘The Suburbs’ live at the amazing Madison Square Gardens.