Sound — 10
A year has gone by since the release of Arcade Fire's sprawling Grammy-winning album "The Suburbs" hit the shelves. Instantly hailed as yet another masterpiece by the Canadian-based indie rock band, the album also sold incredibly well, peaking at No.1 on both the US and the UK charts. There's little denying that Arcade Fire has "made it". Between their ambitious live shows and fierce promotion, Win Butler has guided the band to exponential growth that will eventually have to come to an end. Hopefully, "The Suburbs" does not make the end of an amazing spree of three brilliant albums. The album, being 16 tracks long, begs to be taken seriously as an album in full. The concept is simple, yet the music and lyrics add countless layers to the overall nostalgic sound. The CD/Digital version sounds exactly the same as the vinyl because it was recorded from a vinyl copy. Memory and time are key players in the band's new sound as opposed to the very modern, dark mess that is "Neon Bible", the band's second masterpiece, and my personal favorite. The album starts at mid-pace with the title track. It's the following song, "Ready To Start", where the band comes into full form. Trying to describe the nostalgic sound evoked in the first half of the album is difficult even for a musicologist. The obvious influences seem to be the young Neil Young as well as the more experimental side of Fleetwood Mac. Yet, the band adds small dashes of keyboards as well as full orchestration. The vocals aren't front and center, yet the lyrics are still audible. Perhaps it is the lack of programmed rhythms or autotune, but I feel the sound goes deeper than the obvious indicators of today's pop music. Not that the album is a complete mess of sound at all. In fact, most of the tracks seem very organized with precise arrangements. An exception is the exceptional "Month Of May" which is about as punk sounding as they've ever been, recalling grunge bands in the 90's, and yet not sounding anything like Nirvana at all. Their sound is solid, but open to changes. While some tracks do become slightly monotonous at times, the band certainly knows a thing or two about dramatic emphasis. The use of Regine on "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is stunningly effective as the album begins to close. It's not that Win Butler becomes annoying, but the effective use of Regine is one of the album's many highlights.
Lyrics — 10
As much as the sound aids in the album's nostalgia, it's pretty difficult to miss what the lyrics are conveying throughout the album. "No Cars Go" from "Neon Bible" displayed a similar dissatisfaction with the sprawling mess that has become commercialism and expansionism. "Windowsill" from the same album speaks about not wanting to live "with my father's debt" or wanting it "fast or free". "The Suburbs" presents itself as a 16-track sequel to these songs in particular, yet never ceases to bore or sound whiny. The furthest distance one can walk in America without hitting a road is less than 40 miles. And that number is quite the outlier compared to the other distances. The album reads almost as a protest album against the current mindset of today's society. Yet, the album's seemingly largest words of wisdom come from "We Used To Wait", a reflective, slightly pessimistic look on today's instant gratification: "I used to write I used to write letters I used to sign my name I used to sleep at night Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain But by the time we met By the time we met the times had already changed So I never wrote a letter I never took my true heart I never wrote it down So when the lights cut out I was left standing in the wilderness downtown" It's commentary can be applied practically everywhere, yet the argument arises of human flexibility. Aren't we able to handle all this change, no matter how fast it is? Win Butler seems to argue that we are losing empathy for or fellow man amidst all the pleasures in life. French philosopher Simone Weil lived her life believing in the power of affliction, and why suffering is important to understanding humanity. Too deep? I'm not entirely sure. Yet, the album doesn't just complain about the present by evoking the past, it also celebrates the past, especially childhood. Regine's "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is a gorgeous song with a touch of pain, yet bliss in the knowledge of it. "We rode our bikes to the nearest park Sat under the swings and kissed in the dark You shield my eyes from the police lights We run away, but we don't know why Black river, your city lights shine They're screaming at us: "We don't need your kind!" Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small That we can never get away from the sprawl! Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise Like mountains beyond mountains And there's no end in sight I need the darkness. Someone, please cut the lights!" The album becomes very personal in its insight, yet its application is universal. We've all had to 'grow up' and we all have memories of our childhood and the places we grew up in. Win Butler strives for empathy, and "The Suburbs" universal themes of childhood, nostalgia, and social commentary are able to connect with a wide range of diverse people.
Overall Impression — 10
Ambitious? Oh, yes. But not pretentious, at least by my standards. While "Funeral" dealt with death and the odd memories that remain, "The Suburbs" feelings more physical, rooted in the tangible details of our childhoods. The lyrics talk about revisiting aged hometowns and how everything is changing very quickly. Personally, I feel the album has its share of a few fillers that may or may not register with everybody. The album is up for interpretation after a year and always will be. Yet, its ability to connect with diverse groups of people will hopefully make the album a classic in years to come. The music video for "We Used To Wait" is a prime example of how interactive music and film can be. Check it out at http://thewildernessdowntown.com/ Thanks for reading, hope you're doing alright.