27 Jul 10
To say that Arcade Fire have a lot to live up to is like saying Justin Beiber isn’t the musical equivalent of caner – a blatant lie. They’ve made two brilliant albums that put the body of work of many more experienced artists to shame, so in comes ‘The Suburbs’, an album about growing up in The Woodlands in Texas with 16 tracks and none of them instrumental. Sprawling wouldn’t even begin to describe it.
Let just say that The Suburbs is literally made out of great songs, from The Suburbs all the way to it’s counterpart at the other end of the track listing each track has a charm to it that only Arcade Fire could have produced. Stuck somewhere between small town country rock and anthemic stadium classics the tracks on The Suburbs it becomes somewhat of a concept album, each song a statement on the conflicting nature of real life suburbs, close to the country and only a short drive to the city they too occupy something of limbo between two alternate worlds.
That too reflected in the sheer scale of the album, 16 tracks is a hell of a long time, especially when each one averages out at 3:80. A statement on the vast size of a city’s suburb perhaps or an exercise in pure over indulgence, either way it’s impossible to write an album that long without certain portions of it washing over you and not sticking anywhere in your mind, ‘Half Light’ to ‘Sprawl’ being the main offender. So The Suburbs is a either a very clever idea or a poor excuse to fit as many ideas in as possible, personally I’m inclined towards the former, I refuse to believe that a band who write songs like this didn’t have some sort of grand plan when being written. But does it work as an album, a collection of work meant to be heard in one sitting?
No. It doesn’t. The lack of cohesion here is troubling, the track listing is all wrong and in that way it sounds like somebody making a home made best of tape for a friend. Despite having certain songs obviously meant to go next to each other the vast majority of songs stand alone and stick out from an album that seems like it was almost designed to flow perfectly. Because of this it fails to make a point. Littering lines like “Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock” in ‘Sprawl II’ (which is amazing, by the way) works perfectly in the context of a single song but it fails to meaningfully interact with the disparate strands found in the rest of the album.
The Suburbs has all the songs I wanted in an Arcade Fire album, but it’s not the album I wanted. It’s so close to genuine greatness it’s upsetting but it just doesn’t quite work as a whole. When you’re talking about such vast, internally complex subject matter it’s a sin to talk about it in a way which doesn’t unify it, it fails as an album. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very fine collection of songs, but it could have been a great, great album if it weren’t for problems so distracting.
P.S Wyn Butler has turned into Bruce Springsteen, alert the presses.