The Arcade Fire return with their third album The Suburbs, a semi-conceptual piece which reflects the fears and tensions of a recession hit America desperately searching for direction. The record also finds the band widening their sound to cinematic proportions whilst being inspired by some classic 80’s influences.
Review: Firstly, The Suburbs is not an instant classic to the ear; it’s a dark and complicated record that takes time to sink in and is astonishingly epic on a lyrical scale.
It’s a brave record hinting at the edginess currently prolific in American society with lyrical themes of dislocation, troubled society and lost youth.
Indeed, the words read like a blend of Steinbeck/J G Ballard/Springsteen adapted for 21st Century urban life with Win Butler's voice providing a sad and edgy presence throughout the record (there’s a clear sense of dislocation and a character searching for something new).
This is complemented by some fantastic music, with the band’s blend of rousing folk /carnival/gothic rock being complemented by influences from the best of the 80’s alternative scene.
The title track and Ready to Start lean heavily towards The Waterboys (circa Whole of Moon) whilst Modern Man could almost be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Half Light II could be New Order whilst Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains) recalls Talking Heads in their early 80’s synth period or even the Cocteau Twins.
Elsewhere, Half Light I builds on the successful formula of the earlier records and with a slowly unfurling string arrangement and ghostly melody it’s quite simply beautiful.
Suburban War recalls Springsteen at his darkest and there are even echoes of Neil Young en route to the album’s finish.
However, this does not distract from the group’s identity but adds a flavour and variety to the sound and mood of the record. The lasting impression is of a cohesive and unique musical band slightly at odds with the establishment whilst providing a crashing electrifying mix of strings, synths, percussion and everything that the kitchen sink can throw in.
Verdict: The Canadian band has produced a thought provoking and intellectual record realised on an epic scale which demands attention from the listener. Most importantly, The Suburbs contains some great reflective song writing and rock moments. It may also capture the mood of our uncertain times and is fully recommended.