The ReDownload: Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”

Wherein I find out if I was wrong about an album.

At the time I had this to say about The Suburbs, “Here’s the thing. The New Arcade Fire – it’s like Avatar. Pretty. Hyped beyond belief. And sort of boring.”  I didn’t like Avatar. It was a gigantic leap forward in technology and gorgeous.  But that’s all there was too it.  Behind the veneer you got Dances with Wolves in space with worse writing.  Worse than the film was what it wrought – 3D as a tool to jack up prices and sell bad scripts.  But this isn’t about Avatar.

Arcade Fire has recorded two (maybe one and most of another) brilliant albums.  Funeral and Neon Bible are magical and desperate records.  Songs like  Keep the Car Running, No Cars Go, Une Annee Sans Lumiere, and Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) propel you forward like a parent would as they give their child a push in a playground swing.

People were excited for a third effort.  Since Neon Bible there had been a number of “buzz bands” who came and went.  2009 had been a dry year.  We wanted this band, this band with gravitas, to help us show that we knew what we were talking about.  And so the hype began.  Not only was the new Arcade Fire going to be devoured by the typical indie crowd, it was going to show that indie music could cross over to the mainstream.  We wanted The Suburbs to prove that this band that we were all talking about was truly awesome.  Arcade Fire played SNL and the album was nominated for a  Grammy – so mission accomplished.

I stand by my original thoughts on the album and the hype surrounding it.  Expectations were so very high, which is a bit unfair.  There was no way they could hit the mark because with every breathless DJ drooling over the few songs they had to play in before the release date, the hype got louder.  Failing to live up to the hype is no reason to pan a work of music. So I won’t.

There are strong songs and a few have grown better with time –Empty Room comes to mind, if only because of its similarities to Keep the Car Running. Still, it doesn’t work as a complete album, a total work.   It may seem like I’m stamping my foot while screaming, “their old stuff was so good!”, but I’m not.  The Suburbs is disappointing because it gives the impression of being the leftovers from the first two albums.  It has a bigger narrative arc stuffed into music mired in the past.  It seems that the only thing they really changed was giving more vocal duties to Regine Chassange.  That’s a problem because her voices undermines the power of songs like Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond). The screeching is more pronounced on The Suburbs and quite distracting. Sprawl II is only saved by the pulsing keyboards and electronic bits.

Clearly I’m  minority with my feelings on the album, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.  Check it out and then move on to Funeral and then Neon Bible.  The Suburbs is nothing new – it’s all scope ensconced in the same old musical concepts.  Still, The Suburbs was at the top of a lot of best-of lists.  It has been nominated for a Grammy and sold fairly well.  It’s great to see a band like Arcade Fire with a bigger following.  Maybe it’s a sign that our collective taste is maturing.  At the very least it shows that an indie band can be a commercial success.

Did anyone else notice that chorus during the last half of Rococco sounds a bit like Nada Surf’s Popular?

Listen here


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