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 tracks insistent rhythm guitars and Win Butlers 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 dont 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 Butlers lyrics, although musically they do sound astounding. Suburban War is one of Butlers 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 Butlers summation of how the suburbs are being overwhelmed by the sprawling cities, the first part being Wins 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.