ARCADE FIRE – The Suburbs (Sonovox)

There has been so much anticipation for this release that it is hard to see how it can live up to the expectation, but somehow it does. By opening with one of their most conventional rock songs they are throwing a curveball from the outset, with the title track’s insistent rhythm guitars and Win Butler’s vocals at their most confident. ‘Ready To Start’ is where the band indulge their heavy rock side, with a great riff running through the song, and some steady drumming keeping everything together. ‘Modern Man’ is another example of how the band can deliver real, old-fashioned rock songs, stripped of the bombast of the ‘Neon Bible’-era, and sounding like a younger, fresher group. Oddly enough, after saying that they come up with ‘Rococo’, which is exactly like the stuff on their first two albums, and shows that they can still pull it off with aplomb if they want to, with this particular track working extremely well. Now that they are on a roll, ‘Empty Room’ is all violins and droning guitar, taken at breakneck speed, and delivering the most thrilling moment so far. ‘City With No Children’ is another song built around a great riff, which is something that you don’t tend to associate with Arcade Fire, but giving them a hook to hang onto really adds something to these songs. The two centrepieces of this album are ‘Half Light I’/’Half Light II (No Celebration)’ and ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’/’ Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains’, with the first occurring halfway through the album and the other at the end. For these pieces the band have gone back to their classic sound, with full orchestra almost drowning out Win Butler’s lyrics, although musically they do sound astounding. ‘Suburban War’ is one of Butler’s slow-building ballads, which gradually works towards a thunderous finale, while ‘Month Of May’ is the Fire going punk, with furiously strummed guitars and a staccato vocal, and sounding like a band on speed. The country-ish ‘Wasted Hours’ is a laid-back ballad, and ‘We Used To Wait’ is the first time that you can hear the ‘Funeral’ era sound seeping through. The aforementioned ‘Sprawl’ closes the album with Butler’s summation of how the suburbs are being overwhelmed by the sprawling cities, the first part being Win’s plaintive call for it all to stop, and the second part being taking by Regine, who is resigned to having to put up with it all. A short reprise of the title track follows, and then it is all over. Although this album is most definitely lyric based, with Butler concerning himself with his view of suburban America, I found that the music is easily some of their best, and thankfully not just a rehash of their last two releases. So, whether you drink in the words or just let the sounds wash over you this album is a superb (if a tad over-long) piece of work, and proof - if it is needed - that Arcade Fire are well on their way to becoming a world-class outfit.
   Modern Man