Music News

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

​Oh, a new Arcade Fire album is being released today? I had no idea -- aside from the fact that most everyone has been looking forward to The Suburbs, the band's third album, ever since they first finished listening to their previous album Neon Bible.

It's hard for the Montreal rockers to keep a low profile nowadays thanks to their stellar, genre-defining music -- but this is hardly a problem for the rather ambitious Québécois. 

The Suburbs shows a marked improvement from Neon Bible, yet Arcade Fire manages to evolve as a band in a somewhat unbelievable manner. That is, the band keeps their core music ideals from album to album, yet each album's specific sound is somehow always a giant leap forward, effectively rendering the word "ambition" useless with their magnificent creativity.

Neon Bible, an album many consider to be the band's crowning achievement, seemed too big a mountain to conquer, but the band has done just that. The Suburbs is a lighter, poppier affair than Neon Bible, yet it manages to coalesce into one of the early part of the decade's finest albums. Hard work knows no bounds, and Arcade Fire have been plugging away, maturing their sound to reach its brilliant crescendo -- represented in full with The Suburbs.

What the critics are saying:

BBC Music: The Suburbs appears to have been conceived as a whole in a manner considerably more studied than the band's previous attempts. Its sequencing is perfect, the contrast between fiery punk number Month of May and the following acoustic strum of Wasted Hours the most prominent instance of how unlikely tracks are segued with uncommon skill. It's a convergent collection, too, the opening title-track reprised come the record's quiet climax, comprising an intro to its earlier, fuller version. Put The Suburbs on repeat and days could pass before the urge to change the record takes hold.

Spin: On an album full of moments when hope turns haunting, the ghosts hang heaviest on the spellbinding "Suburban War," which comes roughly halfway through Arcade Fire's blazingly intense third album. Against solemn ringing guitar, Win Butler sings about a man remembering an old friend. Once, the two grew their hair long and vowed to escape, past the fences and pavement, to a place where they could battle on behalf of what was pure. Years pass in a shiver of violin and piano, and now they find themselves fighting different wars. The old friend cuts his hair, then disappears. A martial beat pounds. Butler's voice trembles, the song steels itself in double-time, and the man peers into the window of every passing car, looking for his old friend's face, doomed to seek a lost connection. Two lives become shining beacons, distant stars.

Rolling Stone: The strange thing about Arcade Fire is how they instinctively scale their most intimate confessions to arena-rock levels, rolling out big drums and glossy keyboards. Unlike their mentors U2 and Bruce Springsteen, they don't have much interest in everyday details; the closest they come is when Butler sings about driving to Houston "as we listened to the sound of the engine failing." But that's part of what has made these guys so hugely popular: You can hear how hard they're trying, and that becomes part of the excitement.

Pitchfork: But just because the concerns of The Suburbs are at times mundane, that makes them no less real. And that Arcade Fire can make such powerful art out of recognizing these moments makes our own existences feel worthy of documentation. By dropping Neon Bible's accusatory standpoint, The Suburbs delivers a life-affirming message similar to Funeral's: We're all in this together.

The Suburbs is out now via Merge.

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Michael Lopez