The Suburbs opens with a looped tune of pseudo jolly, like bubblegum that’s lost its taste. The happy-go-lucky piano is deliberate and forced, a metaphor for the facade a modern suburban household presents upon first impression. And thus, the stage is set for the drama to unfold.
With the new album, The Arcade Fire paints a pretty bleak picture; The Suburbs is a masterpiece much more subdued and learned than their previous epic excursions. At times, it’s even a little difficult to identify this as the band’s newest work; it’s as though they’ve been writing this behind the shadows and beyond the depths of some incomprehensible personal loss. In this respect, they have won a significant victory, besting their old selves in areas that were once sore from critical assaults. No longer shall Arcade Fire be known as the one trick pony who only knew how to express their exuberant emotions through bombastic and almost unnecessarily cluttered instrumentation (aka I want to touch your soul with my blasting horn!!!).
The really good news is, In The Suburbs, the Arcade Fire succeeds in creating a lumbering giant of overwhelming emotions with a lot less than what they used to need.
In the album, the Arcade Fire muses about the stillness of adulthood, the abyss of lost dreams trapped within the walls of the typical suburban household and the reckless decay of the soul as we settle down into family life. A few standouts include the title track as well as its equally competent follow up, Ready to Start, a song racing impatiently with desperation. But neither of the songs offer any easy answers; instead of shoving it into your face, it lets the listener come to their own conclusions, which is to me, a much appreciated departure from the previous Arcade Fire. You see, I’ve never actually found Arcade Fire’s music to be inadequate, but the thing is, you’ll never know how good they can be until you’ve heard this album.
As if to go full circle, at the end of the album, there is a nice tie-in with the band’s debut, Funeral. Tracks 2 – 15 add layer upon layer of weight to the album, like a tired spirit shoving dirt into a deep hole, burying its secrets together with the dead until there is nothing left behind but a faint whisper (the Suburbs (continued)) as impalpable as a dream. Here, the suburbs become a massive graveyard , the immaculate lawns and houses coffins of buried freedom.
With this, the Arcade Fire redefines the suburbs as the modern dystopia. What if our lives of modern convenience are the same as the dystopia we once imagined? What if this is the end of the world as we know it?
Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.