ARCADE FIRE: The Suburbs

Arcade Fire photo by Gabriel Jones

ARCADE FIRE
The Suburbs

(Merge)

This third sonic document from the biggest indie band on the planet brings to mind the line about Moll Flanders ‘ always known to pour a man a full measure, and a wee drop more’. Never one to skimp on the theatrics nor shrink from flirting with the overblown, major dude Win Butler isn’t about to change now but does demonstrate a newfound suss in knowing when to hold ‘em. As a result, the AF’s demonstrate, most notably on “”City With No Children” and the sparse perfection of ‘Wasted Hours”. a level of restraint you tend to forget in this seven-headed band.
Big picture, this is Arcade Fire deconstructing the suburbs, turning over fragments and slivers of that lifestyle and the effects of its urban and internal geographies. It’s all meat for the grinder, the light and the dark, the sharp and the sweet, the alienated and the in-charge, dragged out of bed, cold water splashed in its face and yielding up some monster moments.

And it comes with a twist of wry. Unlike its predecessors, this album doesn’t wrap it all up in a grand conclusion. At the end of Butler’s shakedown of all things suburban, the points made and questions raised rattle around like a drawer full of dead I Pods. Suburban banality, corrosive ennui and what might have been never sounded more epic. Especially on the supremely full bodied “Sprawl 11(Mountains beyond Mountains) which gets elevated behind some Gospel tinged keyboards, courtesy of Will Butler’s love affair with vintage analog synths.

It speaks well for AF’s longevity as a band that, even though Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne hold the reins on this high-rollin' wagon, Arcade Fire on record and live, still manage to come across as very much an ensemble, very much all in it together.

The backline comes off sounding muscular and hard hitting, with drummer Jeremy Gara used often as the literal instrument of change. “We Used To Wait” opens with skittish minor key piano chording driving a modern hurtin’ blues dwelling on the exhausting pace of modern life and all. This being Arcade Fire, you know there’s more to it and as Gara’s drumming increases steadily to arrive at a relentless cross-rhythm, the suburban lifestyle’s underpinnings are revealed as so fragile you wonder can they even survive the onslaught of Gara’s drumming.

At 16 tracks, The Suburbs does drag on in places, likely mirroring the way life itself can drag on, as another rock poet put it “long after the thrill of living is gone”. Or maybe Butler still has a problem self-editing.

At the end, unresolved as it is musically, the concept delivers what Arcade Fire fans come for; the assertion that the fight, not the victory is what you’re in it for, that no matter how deep life buries you, keep sucking air, keep swinging.

Or as Win Butler puts it: “These days, my life I feel it has no purpose. But late at night the feelings swim to the surface”. And music you can raise a lighter to with pride.

Lenny Stoute