[sic] Magazine

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Arcade Fire has dropped out of sight in the last several months, so it’s nice to see this insanely talented band make their grand reappearance. And their third album “The Suburbs” is a rich, retro-flavored expanse of truly transcendent music — it starts off rather patchily, but soon it becomes a melodic hurricane of shimmering rock’n’roll.

It starts off rather weakly with the title track, a rather bland piano-rocker. But things pick up with “Ready to Start,” which spins shimmering threads of keyboard around gritty earthy chords (“Businessmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would“). Honestly, this would have made a much better start to the album.

And it sets the tone for the rest of the album — meandering, bluesy rock’n’roll (“Modern Man,” “Month of May”), the stormy stretches of warbling keyboard and ringing guitars (“Rococo,” “Wasted Hours”), bittersweet guitar-pop (“Suburban War”), elegant driving rock anthems (“Empty Rooms,” “We Used To Wait”), and languid indie-pop around a catchy core (“City with No Children”).

The best songs of all are the two-part experimental ones: “Half Light Part I” is an exquisite twinkling little melody, and “Part II” is its darkly glittering counterpoint. On the other hand, “Sprawl (Flatland)” is a string-soaked, bittersweet song, with “Sprawl (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” as its disco-ish companion.

Apparently, the central theme of The Suburbs is urban sprawl … which is not exactly a unique concept. But the Arcade Fire doesn’t just explore the sprawl of suburbia with its “dead shopping malls” and lonely houses, but the loneliness of growing into adulthood and the life of an artist surrounded by “normal” people.

As for the instrumentation, it’s a little less indie-pop and a little more rock’n’roll — strong, shifting electric guitars and powerful chords veiled with shimmering keyboard, strings and piano. And they throw in some brilliant flourishes here and there (the berserk strings in “Empty Room” for example). At the center of all this is Win Butler and RĂ©gine Chassagne — his falsetto voice murmurs through most of the songs, but is sometimes accompanied by her clear sweet one.

And their brilliant lyrical skills are evident in every song — there are some wicked bits of satire (“They seem wild but they are so tame/They’re moving towards you with their colors all the same” — take that, hipsters!), and exquisite lyricism (“Now the cities we live in could be distant stars/And I searched for you in every passing car“).

The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs takes a little while to fully warm up, but it ends up being a lonely, bittersweet exploration of an artist’s life in suburbia – brilliance with a couple of lackluster moments.

~The Suburbs is out now on Merge in the US and Mercury in the UK.~