Arcade Fire The Suburbs
How to measure the expectations surrounding the new Arcade Fire album? Try this: I ran across an online poll asking voters to choose between that and Radiohead’s OK Computer … 10 days before the Arcade Fire record was released. Put another way, The Suburbs can’t simply exist as an enjoyable musical experience; it’s also gotta lower unemployment, bring peace to the Middle East and clean up the BP oil spill.
It certainly tries to save the world—or at least get to the bottom of what’s been ailing it. The culprit? Why, urban sprawl, of course. The 16-track concept record about that terrifying menace might more accurately have been titled Epic City, so sweeping are its many synths and strings and so earnest are Win Butler’s pained lyrics about the “loneliest day of his life” (the day he drove into the sprawl, duh). Who knew Quebecers had it so rough?
If you can stomach the overblown concept, however, The Suburbs makes for a pretty solid spin. I mean, we’re talking about the Arcade Fire here, so it obviously wasn’t gonna suck. There are plenty of standout songs: the punchy, poppy “Modern Man,” the pulsating, Magnetic Fields-ish “City of No Children,” Régine Chassagne’s disco-shimmering “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” And while the Springsteen worship overpresent on 2007’s Neon Bible still comes through, on tracks like “Suburban War” (think Tunnel of Love) and “Month of May” (think The River’s more upbeat material), the record does a commendable job keeping us guessing what’s coming next, be it song to song or part to part within its multifaceted compositions.
Strange as it sounds for something this over the top, The Suburbs also manages to feel a little safe. Or maybe, it’s that it’s a little too soft. Where did the chaotic energy of Funeral’s “Neighborhood #2” (Laika)” run off to? Rekindle some of that and whittle off a few tracks seemingly present only to bolster the theme, and the Arcade Fire might really have a classic with which to challenge OK Computer. It’s still worth hearing as it is, it just won’t cure cancer.