Album Review

The Suburbs

The Suburbs

by The Arcade Fire


Merge
7.5 / 10
16th August 2010

Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam


Arcade Fire’s stock rose dramatically and suddenly with their debut album Funeral – a brilliantly passionate and melodic album which for me at least, hit at that perfect time of my life to be truly meaningful. However its follow-up, Neon Bible had a half-formed, unsatisfying constipated feeling, as if the band were too scared of what had made their name and had to force something out. The Suburbs is halfway between the two – there’s much more of the pitch-perfect melodrama of Funeral, but the album’s a little too sprawling and lyrically awkward to really gain resonance. The fact it’s one of the rare independent albums to top the American album charts is perhaps a sign of Arcade Fire’s now firmly cemented status as one of indie music’s biggest bands – and the album does feature enough wonderful pop moments, and an ambition and eclecticism which should further sell the band to a much wider audience.

Opener, title track ‘The Suburbs’, set up the thematic template of the album – the album is about urban alienation, the changing nature of cityscapes, and repressed memories underneath the change. The deadening effect on individuals (Butler asks in particular, as he often does, ‘won’t someone think of the children’) of conformity and suburban life isn’t a particularly new topic and the lyrics are subsequently still hampered by the facile sloganeering which marred Neon Bible. However, the themes give the album an overall coherence. The opener is much more gentle in setting up the album than ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’, suggesting this album has a much more resigned air to it – it only takes off with the excellent second song ‘Ready to Start’, an edgy and catchy song.

However, the album is occasionally marred by some banal songs – ‘Modern Man’ for example features a pedestrian melody and some obvious lyrics (the constant refrain of “modern man” is a little lacking in subtlely), while the repetition of ‘rococo’ in ‘Rococo’ was more than a touch annoying lyrically (even if the lyrics don’t pull any punches in skewering hipsterdom by linking it to a ‘superficial’ period of art) downgrading some excellent production work. ‘Month of May’ is stadium rock through and through – but sounds a bit too conventional for a band who are able to turn simple melodies into something much more diverse.

However, there are other highlights: ‘Empty Room’ with its quivering strings and pulsating rhythms is a compelling listen (it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t sound a bit like Goldenhorse albeit with better production though) or the fierce ‘Suburban War’. Arguably this album’s highpoints come through the voice of co-singer Régine Chassagne, who’s a bit more upfront in the album. She features prominently in the album’s mini-suites: ‘Half Light’ and ‘Half Light II’, and ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’ and ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Be…)’ which form the centrepiece and climax of the album respectively. They’re also the strongest songs, justifying their importance in the album’s overall structure, and ‘Sprawl II’ in particular is an absolute gem. The obvious comparisons of the song are to Blondie and ABBA, but its gorgeous woozy disco fits the cathartic role required in an album of this size (especially as musically it almost comes out of nowhere as far as the album is concerned) and is a contender for song of the year. It’s also a worthy ending to an enjoyable album – if only the lyrics were a bit more subtle and the album edited down slightly – it would have had excellent written all over it.





comments
Total: 22
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aye?? neon bible was the tits!
Posted by 9279 6 years ago

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Your review is shit. Ill informed and poorly constructed. Why the fuck does it matter if suburban life and conformity arent new topics? You're glossing over stuff simply because you fail to understand it. Give up this game Brannavan.
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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Deconstructing the urban fabric is kind of a constant. It don't need to be fresh. It's a little bit ironic that alot of your criticism of this album actually focusses on what's old about Arcade Fire. Your language doesn't match your message hombre.
Posted by D Frank - anonymous 6 years ago

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I don't know, it's an alright review. It just sucks thqat you've gone down an overwrought path adn lost yourself in the analytics. You could have just listened to it.
Posted by DanBoyd - anonymous 6 years ago

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This is the album of the year.
Posted by Alicia - anonymous 6 years ago

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Theres something wrong about most of the UTR reviewers, they all want to be pitchfork writers. Stop getting too deep in the analytics of the album and just talk about how you feel about it. no one should have to read this wank.
Posted by 4703 6 years ago

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Timz0r is absolutely right. This guy tries way too hard.
Posted by 24231 6 years ago

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Why do you even bother coming here Timz0r all you ever do is compare the site to pitchfork, either too much or too little - boring - this isn't even a bad review he just doesn't like the whole album, nothing wrong with that.
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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The problem with this review is that there are always so many ifs and buts and very little passion about the music. Culture is not a science. But in saying that SOME of the points made are fair. I do have to wonder where a reviewer gets off saying something should be more toned down and subtle. FYI its not your album man. Your just writing about it.
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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I couldnt be bothered reading the rest after you slammed Neon Bible in the first paragraph. YAWN.

Posted by 11903 6 years ago

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'pedestrian melody', 'obvious lyrics', 'facile sloganeering', 'banal songs', 'lacking subtlety'

um...

are you listening to same album we are?

why did you give it a 7.5, when you don't seem to think its that good?

this has to be one of the better releases we've had in AGES.


Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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Seriously, Neon Bible is fantastic and your review is terrible, and contradictory. At least the first few paragraphs are. I quit after that.
Posted by Ashleigh - anonymous 6 years ago

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Give the guy a break - so he didn't like the album as much as you did, instead of being abusive just tell the people why you think it's so great. I personally love some songs but really hate others, I like that they've really focused on creating an album but because I can't get into it all I'd give it an 8/10.
Posted by chill - anonymous 6 years ago

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Sounds like y'all just wanted a press release
Posted by anonymous - anonymous 6 years ago

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I reckon, give the reviewer a break. Minus his Neon Bible comments, he's got some pretty good points. The whole in your face 'think about the kids' theme IS really over exhausted, and pretty annoying. He's truthfully mentioned that (by Arcade's standards) there are some very weak songs on the album, which you are all denying. It is a very good album but it's not even quarter the album of Funeral, but no one wants to go criticising Arcade Fire. This reviewer has been the first critic I have seen so far who hasn't got caught up in a load of hyperbole over the album. I would of given an 8/10, but given personal margins, but he has made his 7.5/10 justifiable.

Posted by what? - anonymous 6 years ago

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this review is just ugly.
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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Arcade Fire are the U2 of indie rock.
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago

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woah brutal - this review ain't shit.

neon bible opinions aside, for the most part the review's on the money. this album just feels like it meanders with very little dynamic that was so prevalent in the previous two releases.

i'm listening to it pretty solidly, but it just doesn't live up to the highs and lows of past. that's the only other thing i'll butt heads with in this review, i don't want subtlety, i want the big grandiose passages that made great centrepoints in the past albums
Posted by 9279 6 years ago

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Nice review, good to a range of perspectives regarding this album. Pity those who commented below don't see the value of that
Posted by Wheres all this anger coming from? - anonymous 6 years ago

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Bran is right: the facile sloganeering really lets down what could have been.

Hammy melodramatic lyrics don't age well.
Posted by Jonathan - anonymous 6 years ago

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I actually thought this review was quite informative - I have a pretty good idea what to expect. I'm sure my opinion of it won't be exactly the same as the reviewer's though.
Posted by James - anonymous 6 years ago

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as i absolutely loved neon bible and never really got why so many championed funeral, i'd have to say my score would be even lower.... i guess i found it more driving and inspired than this or the debut! and 'rococo' is definitely the strongest song on the album...
Posted by - anonymous 6 years ago



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