Aug 02, 2010 Issue #32 - Summer 2010 - Wasted on the Youth
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. A foreboding dread envelopes the record, and the notion of surviving suburban ennui serves as an allegory for the encroaching threat of global annihilation.
Mid-tempo opener "The Suburbs" is an almost Carole King-like piano ditty, its jaunty melody belying the underlying theme of the song, one as haunted by the specter of doomsday as Neil Young's On the Beach. It finds Win Butler prosaically imagining the apocalyptic scenario, "By the times the bombs fell/We were already bored," before confessing in the vigorous chorus, "Sometimes I can't believe it/I'm moving past the feeling."
The dirge-like "Rococo" conjures the blackness of Bowie's Berlin trilogy, its thicket of synths framing Butler's calamitous refrain, "They build it up just to tear it back down," as the song's title is harmonized repeatedly, like a mantra over silvery blurs of harpsichord.
The scorching "Empty Room" begins with a vertiginous sway of strings, before it abruptly gives way to an atomic maelstrom of guitars, bleeding into the red over some gorgeous harmonizing between Butler and Régine Chassagne. It's the heaviest thing they've yet committed to tape, and easily the most emotionally jarring.
Trying to put The Suburbs in historical context at this stage is difficult, but it evokes Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation in its evocation of political discontent coupled with sheer white noise outbursts. And OK Computer comparisons are inevitable, with its themes of technological dread and an overriding feeling that the damage done may well be irrevocable.
Yet it remarkably never loses touch with the wonderment of youth, and the need to preserve it. There's contrition, nostalgia, and existential dread, but a guarded sense of hope subtly pervades the album. However, it's not in the least bit loftily idealistic. It's more a defense mechanism, a manner of coping with the horrors evoked on the album, both imagined and real, and the band are still clearly hoping for change for the better, while obviously planning for the worst. (www.arcadefire.com)
Author rating: 9/10
Average reader rating: 9/10