Montreal’s indie rock collective known as the Arcade Fire is no stranger to pressure from both critics and fans alike. In 2004, the band released Funeral, an album that would become the talk of the music world and a classic almost overnight. The album was universally praised and many felt that there was no way to suitably follow such a behemoth of a release. Arcade Fire answered in 2007 with Neon Bible, silencing detractors through their Springsteen-esque Americana. With expectations higher than ever, Arcade Fire returns with its third album for Merge Records, The Suburbs, proving it has the capability of adding a huge layer of atmosphere onto its classic sound.
From the very start of The Suburbs, we see that band leader Win Butler’s scope has broadened. While Arcade Fire has always constructed extravagant anthems, songs such as “Ready to Start” and “Month of May” prove to be some of the most accessible songs the band has ever put to tape while retaining the band’s signature jangly indie orchestration. The Suburbs initially appears to be a large departure for the band. The songs are welcoming to the mainstream and much more reserved than the band’s previous work, but it’s not a bad thing.
Arcade Fire’s always been able to showcase a wide range on influence without ever making their songs sound rehashed or like pure idol worship. On The Suburbs, it is obvious that the band has been listening to a lot of Neil Young – so much so that this record feels like the opus that Young never wrote. “City With No Children” is a song full of Young-isms that furthers the album’s theme and displays a new level of creativity for Arcade Fire.
A loose concept album based around its titular theme, The Suburbs avoids many of the pitfalls that could easily arise when addressing the aforementioned subject. While suburban life was a well-tread topic in mid-80s hardcore – The Descendants “Suburban Home” and The Dead Kennedys “This Could Be Anywhere” immediately come to mind – it has become an overwrought and boring endeavor in recent years. By avoiding a one-sided indictment, Arcade Fire paints a picture of suburban life not often seen in music, both beautiful and stifling. While many artists spend time dwelling in its negative aspects, The Suburbs sends the listener on a journey that is as multi-layered as the subject matter it is addressing.
The only faults within The Suburbs are few and far between. The album sets out to be taken as such and focuses less on stand-out tracks than it does the overall feel. However, at 16-tracks – and over an hour in length – the album’s slowed tempos can often blend together and makes The Suburbs a bit of a drag in spots. While the album never lags for more than a track, its sub-par closer, “The Suburbs (continued),” may be the most anticlimactic end to an album in recent memory. These issues aside, The Suburbs stands as a great addition to Arcade Fire’s catalog and an enjoyable listen for fans of Americana and indie rock alike.