Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Album review - Arcade Fire 'The Suburbs'

Arcade Fire
‘The Suburbs’

AFTER THE near faultless Neon Bible, follow-up to smash debut and album of the decade poll-topping Funeral, it appeared Arcade Fire could do no wrong, particularly in these parts, where they seemed worshipped with a certain reverence.
However, poor early word of mouth on this third album, the strangely titled ‘The Suburbs’, a small-ish crowd at Oxegen to see their headline Friday night appearance - could there be cracks appearing in the world’s biggest alternative band?
Not a bit of it.
True, this is a sprawling, bloated, so-called “concept” album that could have done with co-producer Markus Dravs getting out the scissors and trimming a few tracks - but boy is it a musical hotpotch, a heady brew of deep, dark, often subversive tunes that will take some amount of sampling to pronounce a verdict on.
There is a sense of unease about proceedings here, as if Wyn Butler, Regine Chassagne et al were slightly unconvinced about what they were attempting, but this 16-track beast is a testament to their bravery as artists.
The album boasts some classic rock tunes - Modern Man, an early highlight; synth-driven, Krautrock beats - Sprawl II Mountains Beyond Mountains; and chugging, string driven orchestrations - the pitch-perfect Rococo.
We particularly like the gloom of Sprawl I and II - capturing beautifully the mood and desperation of suburban life - “living in the sprawl/dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains”.
The gentle, almost jaunty opening of The Suburbs is disarming, but the No Cars Go spin-off Ready To Start is unmistakably Arcade Fire, a downbeat offering with a whipping electro finish. The first half of Half Light I recalls Sufjan Stevens with its swirling violins, while its follow-up, Half Light II, is less memorable.
The Fleetwood Mac-meets-Springsteen sheen of Suburban War is one of the highlights - “oh my old friends / they don’t know me now”, while lead single We Used to Wait - echoing as it does Foals/Klaxons - makes more sense when heard in context with the rest of the album.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, this is up there with Arcade Fire’s best work - bizarre Depeche Mode-concept quirks aside - but could still have done with being reduced in scope.
That said, there is enough here to offer a new experience with each new listen.

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