The Suburbs is the third full-length record from Canadian indie-rockers Arcade Fire, a self-described amalgam of “Depeche Mode and Neil Young.” It’s already received a favorable reception by critics, invoking the inevitable Radiohead OK Computer comparisons. The album brims with realism, but there is also an underbelly of hope to be found here, too. All in all, I think this is a great record, perhaps my favorite one of the year so far.
The album begins with the title track, a perky little meditation on all that brims just below the surface in the superficial utopia of modern American suburbia: violence, apathy, easily discarded yearnings for meaning. You know, real light stuff. But Arcade Fire has always toed this fine line, unafraid to tackle the thematic territory of giants. It comes off nicely here, as the album opener seamlessly segues into “Ready To Start” whose Strokes-esque guitar riff briefly conjures memories of “Someday”. Lyrically, it’s easy to see that this is a band that’s hit the big time while trying to remain true to her indie band roots. (“Businessmen drink my blood / Like the kids in art school said they would.”) “Modern Man” narrates the discontent of an entire generation of young adults searching for meaning while they “wait in line for a number they don’t understand”. One of the standout tracks is “City With No Children”, which is pretty unique among Arcade Fire tracks for its particularities; Arcade Fire are known more for the grandness and sweep of their themes, not for everyday lyrics like “Dreamed I drove home to Houston”. But the song’s message — the agonizingly enduring period of recovery from love lost or rejected — is universal and quite at home on this large record. And that’s the beauty of this album and part of what makes it work: these transcendent themes are juxtaposed in suburban settings that give this thesis resonance. “City With No Children” also contains what is probably one of my favorite lyrics all year: “You never trust a millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount.”
Among the other stellar cuts are “Wasted Hours”, “We Used to Wait” (great video, by the way), and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. At 60+ minutes, my initial reaction was that The Suburbs would benefit from some editing, but after listening through a couple of times, the whole album is really strong. With the exception of “Empty Room” and “Month of May”, there’s not a bad track to be found here. As with all Arcade Fire albums, the finished product is a cohesive whole. Plus, it rocks.
If you’re in the market for some late summer indie rock to spruce up your listening options, give The Suburbs a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. (But even if you are, you’ll appreciate the fact that this album articulates that feeling for you. The irony!)