Having had three years to stew on it, it’s fair to say that Neon Bible wasn’t the follow up we were hoping for after Funeral (our album of the year back in 2005). The reactionary hyperbole soon subsided to reveal a good, solid album: nothing more, nothing less. And so, when The Suburbs arrived in August, there were a few skeptical heads awaiting it and a general air of indifference amongst parts of the media. Arcade Fire’s third album, though, represents a quantum leap forward for the Montreal band. Naysayers have been left to eat their words and fans finally have a worthy successor to their brilliant first album.
But The Suburbs is by no means Funeral Mark II. In fact, it’s not until the fifth track (the iridescent Empty Room) that they even pander to their blockbusting whim. This is an altogether more subtle and mature piece of work. At times the lyrics seem to be plucked from the mouths of the kids of Funeral, all grown up and realising that the world isn’t such a wonderful place after all. Parts of Suburbs are dark – filled with disillusionment, resignation and regret. They are drained of the optimism that characterized their early work; the years of working for the “businessmen who drink their blood” (Ready to Start) have taken their toll. Thematically, The Suburbs is a complete inversion of their glorious debut.
Thankfully, it’s not in Arcade Fire’s nature to let their gripes get in the way of a good tune. The undercurrents remain exactly that: buried beneath a constant barrage of beauty. OnThe Suburbs, they have repressed some of the (fantastically) flamboyant elements of yore and adhered to more traditional song structures. Yet, impressively, they still sound vital and original. Their approach is arguably simpler and less exuberant than the band we fell for, but no less thrilling.
From the piano led splendour of its title track and album highlight We Used to Wait, to Régine Chassagne’s star turn on the Blondie aping Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and the introspective Suburban War, this is one of the most musically accomplished and enjoyable albums to be released in quite some time. It’s good to have them back.
Originally published here.