- Mon, 2010-08-02 18:06
When Arcade Fire released their debut album Funeral in 2004 you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were listening to the triumphant culmination of a decade-long career. It wasn’t simply that the band’s sound was so individual - their brooding orchestral instrumentation and unpredictable arrangements along with Win Butler’s unmistakable voice – but the assurance with which that individuality was deployed. Most bands take time to fully recognise and harness what it is that sets them apart, and along the way there are the inevitable moments when they get tangled up in and carried away by their artistic vision to the detriment of their music. That Arcade Fire arrived so fully-formed was part of what set them apart from the crowd, and what allowed them to realise a second album as ambitious as Neon Bible three years later, in 2007.
A further three years on and third album The Suburbs has arrived. All of the Arcade Fire hallmarks are present; recurring lyrical themes, intricate string arrangements, climactic song structures and melodies both compelling and catchy. The danger of being a band with such a recognisable sound is that with repetition it becomes tired. Arcade Fire have avoided that trap both by using their characteristic traits to different effect and by adding some new elements to the brew, most notable perhaps being the flickering synth line in penultimate track Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).
The primary means by which The Suburbs sets itself apart from either Funeral or Neon Bible is its unique atmosphere. The raw exuberance and barely-contained energy of Funeral is replaced by a quietly determined sense of purpose, while the sheer bombast and scope of Neon Bible is replaced by a greater degree of dynamic variation. Where Funeral was dominated by youthful excitement and Neon Bible railed against the injustices of modern society, the unifying mood of The Suburbs seems to be a pervading sense of world-weariness.
It’s a state of mind that manifests itself both in the sedate and contemplative, as on Wasted Hours, Sprawl I (Flatlands) and the title track, and also through the frustrated grandiosity of Ready To Start, Empty Room or We Used To Wait. When these two poles meet in the centre ground, as on Modern Man, Rococo or Deep Blue, mid-paced songs crackle with static, orchestral flourishes hinting at an approaching storm; a storm that finds its most comprehensive outlet in the brutish simplicity of Month Of May.
The peaks and troughs on display on The Suburbs make for a sonically and emotionally rich suite of songs. It ranges from delicate and plaintive to robust and assertive, never failing to be completely absorbing throughout. As the final track, The Suburbs Continued, seeps slowly away, Win and Regine together whisper “If I could go back, all the time that we wasted, I’d only waste it again,” and you’re left with the overpowering urge to go back to the start of the album and waste it again with them.