By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
The Suburbs is the third album from the most popular and important band to come out of the Canadian indie rock scene, Arcade Fire. (Their closest competitor would be Broken Social Scene, but I don’t think the bands are all that close.) As we know, “popular” doesn’t always indicate any level of quality, but when it’s paired with “important” that’s usually a good sign. These guys (and girls) are pretty highly esteemed and this is an eagerly anticipated new release. I can’t claim to be one of their die-hard fans though – until very recently I had only heard a few scattered songs from them… though my chance meetings with their music have always been positive.
In order to make the CD version of The Suburbs sound just like vinyl, each song was first recorded onto acetate and then digitally re-recorded from the pressing. I think it’s a great idea (that I can’t believe I’ve never encountered before,) but I wonder what vinyl purists will think about the method. The first track is deceiving and pretends to be upbeat, but reveals its melancholy skeleton after about a minute. “Ready to Start” sounds more like American indie than Canadian indie, if you can imagine what that might sound like. “Modern Man” is their first misstep and, despite its interesting stutter-beat, it just never goes anywhere. The crescendo of sound in “Rococo” more than makes up for the repeated lyrics, the frenetic pace of “Empty Room” is over almost before it starts and “City With No Children” is another flub. “Half Light II” sounds like a previously-unreleased track from Neil Young and “Suburban War” could just as easily be found on a Springsteen album, but I’m not a fan of either artist and I could do without derivative work from a band that can do much better. “Month of May” is another faster tempo song (about their fans?) that gets the album back on track. “Wasted Hours” is another “so-so” step backwards, but then Arcade Fire stop playing around and finish the album strong. “Deep Blue” and “We Used to Wait” are the two standout tracks and, even though the songs go in a completely different direction, “Sprawl I” and “Sprawl II” are pretty good too.
Arcade Fire is not my favorite musical act to come out of Canada – Metric holds that title, followed closely by Magneta Lane – but, before the release of this album, I would have put them in the middle of a group that contains the aforementioned bands as well as Tegan and Sara, Stars, Feist and k-os. As it happens, after listening to The Suburbs, Arcade Fire retains their spot in the middle of the (Canadian) pack. It took me a few listens before I could definitively rate each track on this album and – I have to admit – a couple songs bounced from good to bad or bad to good, so I’m pretty confident that this will be one of those “it grows on you” releases. (Those are always a fun experience.) The Suburbs is longer than either Funeral or Neon Bible and about half of the first two-thirds (that’s two-sixths for the math-impaired out there) of the album could have been culled down to create a tight set of songs that would completely blow away their previous releases. The way it stands, this album is just a little better than their Funeral, which, in turn, is slightly better than Neon Bible. So, yeah, it’s Arcade Fire’s best release to date and one of the better albums so far this year, but it really could have been the classic album that everyone is undoubtedly already proclaiming it to be. Pick it up, you won't be disappointed... just don't expect it to be the second coming of the Beatles or anything.