Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Album Review: Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs"

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire, 2010

To much anticipation, Arcade Fire's third full album, "The Suburbs" was released yesterday. I had heard quite a bit of the album previously and was partially impressed, but after listening to the album in its entirety, all I have to say is "Wow."

Arcade Fire (or The Arcade Fire, if we want to be formal) are quite the interesting group. I think the best way to describe their music would be intellectually orchestral. Generally their songs start from a basic thesis, or melody, and spin into a level of complexity that is astounding, finishing at a point where one feels they need to genuflect for the theatric, almost religious, climax and satisfying denouement.

Their songs are very reflective of the dramatic images their name evokes. "Arcade Fire"... it sounds like something gothic and romantic in a love-lost sort of way. When my good friend and musical genius Weezer told me that their name came from an actual event where people they knew perished in an actual arcade fire, I was slightly disappointed. Actually, my first response was "Wow. I wonder what the hell happened to Vampire Weekend!" I think I would appreciate the name more if the band would have thought of it independent from reality, but that's beside the point.

Arcade Fire have been on a steady schedule of releasing an album every two years since 2004. As an testament to their longevity, indie and college rock stations are still playing works from Funeral (released in 2006) and Neon Bible (released in 2008). That my seem relatively recent, but the radio stations to which I generally listen usually retire tracks after they've been in rotation for 1-2 months. (I know, I'm a pretentious douche. Please refer to the title of the blog and remember where you are and who I am).

Neon Bible, Arcade Fire, 2008

Neon Bible (2008) and Funeral (2006) left a big reputation for Arcade Fire to uphold. I remember listening to "Intervention" one day on the radio and afterwords the DJ said "I always feel like I need to cross myself after listening to that song!" That's how many of the tracks on these albums are. They're just such heavy and complete ideas that when the song is over, one is left with an intense sense of satisfaction that is normally related to religious experiences. It's an amazing feeling.

Arcade Fire, Funeral, 2006

"The Suburbs" (2010) has had a lot of hype. I've been hearing about this album for a very long time. I heard one DJ equate the album to Radiohead's OK Computer (1997) which is really the album that launched Radiohead into a whole new category of artist: they were, at that point, no longer a rock band. At that point, they were innovative artists. OK Computer is often in "Top 10" lists of albums from the entirety of the 20th century and is personally one of my favorite albums of all time, so to compare "The Suburbs" to this album is to me both the ultimate compliment and incredibly dangerous.
Radiohead, OK Computer, 1997

Initially, I was a little apprehensive about The Suburbs. I had already heard many tracks from the album, and was only really deeply moved by the song "Ready to Start." However, after listening to the album cover to cover, my mind has been changed. Contrary to Arcade Fire's previous works, it feels like The Suburbs truly is an album rather than a collection of songs. Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Neon Bible and Funeral, but they just do not have the kind of cohesiveness and completeness that is found in The Suburbs.

Thematically, there is a consistency of The Suburbs. It is very much a feeling of "We've finally made it, but what have we lost in the process?" It's very much looking at the state of their lives now in comparison to their modest, suburban, childhoods. One of my favorite lines from Ready to Start are the first two lines "Businessmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would." This line very much sets the tone for the entire album.

There are very few albums out there that have had a deep and lasting impact on me, and they are generally the ones that are very thematically consistent or which completely change the way I listen to music. They are generally albums which transcend genre and that personally impact me for one reason or another. One of those albums is OK Computer, which I've already mentioned, which both transcends genre and changed the way I listen to music. Here are some others:
Radiohead, Kid A, 2000
Beck, Sea Change, 2002

Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand, 2004

Jenny Lewis, Rabbit Fur Coat, 2006

Ben Folds, Ben Folds Live, 2002

Mark Ronson, Version, 2007

Rufus Wainwright, Want Two, 2004

TV on the Radio, Dear Science, 2008

I'm not sure if "The Suburbs" will make it onto this list, only time will tell, but I can tell you, I highly recommend this album, and I highly recommend listening to the album cover to cover. Although there are several strong individual entries to this album, I feel the only truly amazing single from the album will be Ready to Start. However, I would recommend buying the album. I may even buy it someday myself! Until then, I am perfectly happy streaming online!

Sorry for the lack of comedy in this post, but I take my music very seriously, so deal with it, bitches! A post on Project Runway will be coming later this week, so you can almost be guaranteed that will be laced with seething bitchery.

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