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The Suburbs

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Album Review

Montreal’s Arcade Fire successfully avoided the sophomore slump with 2007’s apocalyptic Neon Bible. Heavier and more uncertain than their near perfect, darkly optimistic 2004 debut, the album aimed for the nosebleed section and left a red mess. Having already fled the cold comforts of suburbia on Funeral and suffered beneath the weight of the world on Neon Bible, it seems fitting that a band once so consumed with spiritual and social middle-class fury, should find peace “under the overpass in the parking lot.” If nostalgia is just pain recalled, repaired, and resold, then The Suburbs is its sales manual. Inspired by brothers Win and William Butler’s suburban Houston, TX upbringing, the 16-track record plays out like a long lost summer weekend, with the jaunty but melancholy Kinks/Bowie-esque title cut serving as its bookends. Meticulously paced and conservatively grand, fans looking for the instant gratification of past anthems like “Wake Up” or “Intervention” will find themselves reluctantly defending The Suburbs upon first listen, but anyone who remembers excitedly jumping into a friend’s car on a sleepy Friday night armed with heartache, hope, and no agenda knows that patience is key. Multiple spins reveal a work that’s as triumphant and soul-slamming as it is sentimental and mature. At its most spirited, like on “Empty Room,” “Rococo,” “City with No Children,” “Half Light II (No Celebration),” “We Used to Wait,” and the glorious Régine Chassagne-led “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” the latter of which threatens to break into Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” at any moment, Arcade Fire makes the suburbs feel positively electric. Quieter moments reveal a changing of the guard, as Win trades in the Springsteen-isms of Neon Bible for Neil Young on “Wasted Hours,” and the ornate rage of Funeral for the simplicity of a line like “Let’s go for a drive and see the town tonight/There’s nothing do, but I don’t mind when I’m with you,” from album highlight “Suburban War.” The Suburbs feels like Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused for the Y generation. It’s serious without being preachy, cynical without dissolving into apathy, and whimsical enough to keep both sentiments in line, and of all of their records, it may be the one that ages so well.

Customer Reviews

Idyllic. Gorgeous. Extraordinary.

I have been listening to “The Suburbs” for a couple of weeks now (pretty much non-stop.) It’s unbelievable and incredible in every way. Do not hesitate to get the full album and do not pick and choose tracks (can’t tell you enough how much you will miss out if you do that.) It’s Arcade Fire so the bar is already super high. You know that anything they offer will be great and you will be delighted. This will just blow you away. I want to insert/repeat ‘unbelievable’, ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘masterpiece’, ‘beautiful’ and every other great, positive word throughout the words of this review. The music is distinctly AF, but they cover every vibe you can (and cannot) imagine, from their Baroque rock to dance-like to punk to roots to symphonic. You might think that would sound disjointed, but it isn’t, not at all. It’s quite wonderful how they have put it all together.

One of the most mind-bending things about “The Suburbs” is the story that the whole album tells. The themes and lyrical tie-ins throughout the songs are masterful. I would go into depth and give examples, but the review will never end. It is like a series of stories or chapters of a book. To truly appreciate the continuity, you must listen to the songs in their sequential order several times, at least, before you shuffle. (Even the transition points between songs matter.) Listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean about the story (stories) being told. It’s all so seamless and mesmerizing. All of the music/instrumentation, again, is super-gorgeous. If you ask me to name favourites, I’m afraid that’s nearly impossible as every song is SO great! Since I’ve already done, I’ll leave some basic comments about the songs (below) if you care to read. The main thing I will repeat though, is that they are ALL astounding and I am in love with “The Suburbs.” This is already a classic for me and will be listened to endlessly. So looking forward to seeing Arcade Fire (again) in concert August 14th on Toronto Island!

‘The Suburbs’ title track - perfection, as you know. I was floored by ‘Ready To Start’ the first time I heard it: the entire vibe, the lyrics, the vocals, that bell-ish guitar, the wind down/slow down around 3:12 - all awesome. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ is a standout, especially moving with (angel) Regine’s voice doing a Blondie-Abba turn. I get a really pleasant chill every time she sings the word “small”’ll know exactly what I mean when you hear it; and the music is so superb. ‘Suburban War’ is also very moving. This song in particular makes me nostalgic. If you also relate, you’ll probably agree that Win has been witness to all our youth. I love the turn this song takes at about 3:24. Only to be adored. ‘We Use To Wait’ also makes me nostalgic (wow, letter writing) for its content/story and its sound; the last minute of this song is wild! ‘Modern Man’ has such an overall pretty groove and lovely lilt; Win’s voice is just pristine (and I reiterate that for every song.) The same can be said for ‘Rococo’ and ‘Deep Blue’ (ahh, that piano) which are immense favourites - so majestic! ‘Empty Room’ has an underlying vibe that is Vivaldi on high speed. Such crazy-great energy, music and vocal heights - the velocity this song brings is incomparable. ‘City With No Children’ is a more of a quieter rocker, a great one. ‘Sprawl I’ is also quieter and feels somehow ike it should be in a play. The lyrics are ace. ‘Half Light I’ is gorgeous from the music to Win and Regine’s voices: the song sort of sneaks up on you with the way it builds in all aspects. Superb. ‘Half Light II’ changes the pace and goes techno and pulsates: wicked! ‘Wasted Hours’ has a folk/roots vibe which is great but the story/lyrics are even greater. ‘Month of May’ of course, is so infectious and addictive, as you already know. What else? Even the ambient sound has great importance: at the end of/between songs you’ll hear car engines, cars on an overpass, trains, buses. Such detail, so smart.


Je trouve cet album aussi bon, sinon meilleur que le précédent. C'est vraiment un pur plaisir pour les oreilles....Vive nos talents québécois (montréalais) !


I was a little skeptical about what this album would bring. A sixteen-song tracklisting had the prospect of becoming boring. And after the masterpieces that were 'Funeral' and 'Neon Bible', I wasn't sure if Arcade Fire could pull it off again. But pull it off they did. 'The Suburbs' is a collision of social commentary and pure nostalgia, with memories of lost love and hope for the future embedded in every beat. And yet, this newest release brings a fresh perspective of the present into play. While Arcade Fire sings of the olden days and the coming prospects, it seems as if they've found their hold on what Right Now has to offer. To live in the moment and be there fully; to learn from mistakes but not to dwell, and to look forward to opportunities but not to stress. They've still got it.

Just listen.


Formed: June, 2003 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A combination of indie rock muscle and theatrical, unapologetic bombast turned Arcade Fire into indie royalty in the early 2000s. Originally comprised of Régine Chassagne, Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury, and brothers William and Win Butler, the group formed during the summer of 2003, after Win spotted Chassagne singing jazz standards at a Montreal art exhibit. The grandson of famed swing-era bandleader Alvino Rey, Win was quickly charmed by Chassagne's performance, leading the two to launch a songwriting...
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