Contemplating a day in the sweet life appears to be a source of torment for Arcade Fire’s frontman Win Butler, and his memories and fears are laid bare in this not-so-happy look back at the place from whence he came.
The title track opens the album with an expansive feeling of nostalgia before switching gears into “Ready to Start,” throwing a one-two punch. Quaint pop tones, where layers of piano and string textures unfold beneath a pronounced rhythm section, dive into a politely inward punk pace. Butler’s understated falsetto melodies never quite match the visceral pound of the song, which creates tension in it’s own right. From there the album spreads out on a level plane of mediocrity. “Modern Man” rings with the kind of wallpaper aspirations of a gaunt, Mike and the Mechanics B-side. And while majestic in its musical tones, “Rococo” says something about the group’s grand and ornate yet delicate style. These busy, dramatic and almost goth qualities work against the album’s ability to leave an impression on the psyche as the compelling aural cues of “City With No Children,” “Deep Blue” and “We Used to Wait” get lost in the filigree.
To put it in the most simple of record shop talk, The Suburbs is nowhere near as unpredictably baroque, orchestral or engaging as the band's debut, Funeral. But it isn’t as Bruce Springsteen-boring as the second album, Neon Bible. Rather, these songs occupy a balanced limbo somewhere between the previous two, but it isn’t without a few fantastic moments. The Suburbs is too long to a fault, and the really interesting, if not great songs (“Half Light II,” “Month of May” and “Sprawl II”) are scattershot across a marathon that plateaus with an uneventful plod that would be much stronger at 10-12 songs, instead of 16. But if droning on and on is a postmodern aesthetic choice, it comes across as brilliant commentary. It is a demanding album to be sure, but if you give it the kind of patient, contemplative listen that these songs deserve, it’s quite haunting.
3 out of 5 stars
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