If you told me a new release was a concept album about suburbia, I'd approach it with a mixture of skepticism and curiosity. If you told me it was a sixteen song c.d. with this theme, my preconceptions would have leaned to three possible conclusions: overreaching, just plain hubris, or sheer genius. After years of elaboration from Supertramp, the bottom line of The Monkees' "Another Pleasant Valley Sunday," as well as Billy Joel's appropriate update, "No Man's Land," what else needs to be said about the banality of life in the suburban world?
Fortunately, because it comes from Arcade Fire, and music samples abound, their latest offering ‘The Suburbs' shouldn't be discounted. I like to make up my mind on my own, but I have to admit, I'd go no further if it wasn't for favorable reviews by ‘Rolling Stone' and ‘The Boise Independent'. For the former, Arcade Fire's creative prospects are still flourishing; for the latter accolades come just short of this generation's ‘Sgt. Pepper' or ‘Nevermind'. Either way it's an easy bet this offering is on the short list for The Top Ten albums of the year.
Arcade Fire prevent themselves from painting into a corner by elaborating this theme well--and, going out on a limb--they're more consistent at sticking to their concept than The Beatles ever were. The real goldmine, however, comes from the music itself, which is more varied than The Mall of America. With shivery and shimmering strings, solid piano, and cascades of synthesizers on select songs, their collection remains solid and interesting. The texture and sound is outstanding throughout. To build my own analogy, ‘The Suburbs' is this summer's ‘Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends'.
The sing-a-long with the piano feel is given to the title track and "Deep Blue;" but they're also rock ‘n' roll ready with punky moments like "Month of May" and "Empty Room". There's plenty--perhaps too many--pensive moments, too, but "Wasted Hours" with its 'Pet Sounds' nuances does more than tread water, and the Rickenbacher 12-string Byrdesque folk sound accompanying "Suburban War" is supple and smooth. Synthesizers are awash in "City with No Children," so at least ‘The Suburbs' music never gets boring.
As the talking head, Win Butler, seldom runs out of elaborations. "Something don't feel right…/Like a record skipping, I'm a modern man. Maybe when you're older you'll understand./Why you don't feel right. Why you don't sleep at night." While his sentiments on "Modern Man" may resemble W.H. Auden's (The poet who coined the phrase, "Age of Anxiety".), the soundtrack is indelibly and unforgettably Arcade Fire's. . Although "Wasted Hours" can't be considered the suburban counterpart to Springsteen's "Jungleland," and "Suburban Sprawl" (the first) sports a dangerous trend toward snooze control, "Suburban Sprawl II" gets right to the point. While Butler's vocals resemble the next Neil Young, his wife, Régine Chassagne's siren Yoko Ono-esque vocals admirably lament "…We can never get away from this sprawl, living in the sprawl/ Dead shopping malls/ Rise like mountains beyond mountains."
The lectures, sermons, and stories made in between are left for you to investigate. (They're about as eloquent as they are unsurprising--although one of the C.D.'s very best songs, "City with No Children," is hardly retread.) While not all territory is groundbreaking on 'The Suburbs,' the musical variety is enough to fill our shopping bag with enough nuances to keep us satisfied for some time to come.
(Please note that if you are downloading 'The Suburbs' you should put the seconds for no pause if you are burning a c.d. because of the number of segues--indiscernible pauses characteristic of classical music and brought to popular music on The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper'--are plentiful.)
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About the reviewer
John L. Peterson (JP_Rocky_Raccoon)
I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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The Suburbs is the third album by Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire. The album was released on August 2 in the United Kingdom and August 3, 2010 in North America. Coinciding with the announcement the band released a limited edition 12-inch single containing two tracks from the album, "The Suburbs" and "Month of May".