Arcade Fire’s debut Funeral was the sound of a band coming out of nowhere to claim their place as the next big thing in a manner no one had quite experienced before. Neon Bible was a doom-laden and apocalyptic state-of-the-modern-world address which affirmed that Arcade Fire were big on concepts but short on laughs.
So where does The Suburbs take us? Exactly where it says it will. The American suburbs. Vast, sprawling developments of domesticity which go on and on and on. I’ve never been to America, however I do know that what I know as suburbia here in my home country is a far cry from the epic residential areas that surround most major cities in North America. While I’m familiar with the mix of ancient and modern brick and stone buildings that signal the transition from the town or city to the surrounding countryside, my only experience of American suburbs is from what I have seen on films and TV. That was until the release of The Suburbs, an album which (perhaps uniquely) celebrates life in a place most rock bands are trying to escape.
Wherever there are suburbs there are kids wanting to expand their horizons, parents just wanting a quiet existence where they can raise their families, and those whose kids have flown the nest and are now looking forward to a well-earned retirement. This album manages to celebrate each generation’s relationship with their home, which, while not exactly ingrained in the spirit of rock and roll, is no bad place to be. Sure, go out, have adventures, develop life experience, go and explore what the world has to offer, but at the end of the day, nowhere captures your heart quite like home.
Musically The Suburbs is considerably less bombastic than either of its predecessors, being less anthemic than Funeral and lacking the fire and brimstone of Neon Bible. Instead it has a much more of an oddly homely quality, comforting but not dull and with moments of genuine energy and joy such as “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and the youthful exuberance of “Month of May” which sounds for all the world like Arcade Fire briefly channeling Status Quo for the modern indie kid audience. Now that may sound a little strange, but for me it makes thrilling sense. It’s the sound of kids wanting to be adults, but avoid being like their parents, which is ultimately who the vast majority of us eventually become.
The need for family and familiarity is the conceptual thread which runs through this album and is a theme which has been close to my own heart in recent years, which is probably why I have taken this album in to my heart in a way that many Arcade Fire fans did not. This is not an album that celebrates expanding your horizons, this is one for the home-birds. I’m someone that feels a need to give something back to the community where I was born and raised. While there have been friends that have decided their future lies in the glow of the bright lights of big cities or even in far off exotic countries, I have remained close to home, which is where I belong. It’s this spirit which permeates through The Suburbs.
Sure, The Suburbs is too big and vast for its own good and it certainly loses focus in the last third, though I couldn’t even start to tell you which tracks need to be judiciously edited from the running order. Focus is regained on the penultimate track, the Regine Chassagne sung “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. While I had not always been a fan of the tracks sung by Regine on previous albums, this one is the great pop moment of this album, the point where the vaguely shabby houses on the edge of town come to an end and the horizon bursts into life in a blaze of 80s indebted electro-pop.
That’s The Suburbs, in places it’s homely and secure, there are bored kids shuffling about that want to be somewhere else, even though everything they know and love is right here, there are places where it’s a little thread-bare and needs a little sprucing up and there’s often something genuinely surprising and heart-warming just around the corner.