Wednesday, September 1

Album Of Last Month

Arcade Fire 'The Suburbs' (Mercury)

Anybody who has ever suggested that Arcade Fire have made a 'great' album was lying. Lying to the world. Lying to whoever it was they were attempting to convince. Lying to themselves. Songs, yes. 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)', 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' and 'Rebellion (Lies)' of 'Funeral' were illustrious each in their own spectacles. And 'Intervention' and 'No Cars Go' from 'Neon Bible' the same. But to allege that the Montreal seven-piece have actually fashioned a consistently end-to-end piece of baroque pop'd beauty is unjust. Until now, that is - Apologies for the cliché turnabout but it's so fucking true, nothing else would better justify the ruling.
Anything over 11, 12 tracks is more often than not a hamstring for the inventor (see under the too-stubborn Sufjan Stevens and Adam Green). Here, though, it just not once lets down, and if it does faintly veer off into a dicey alleyway by way of a steadfast-but-dreary riff (cough, 'Month Of May', cough - Oh, and whose lamebrain idea was it to hype the album with that? Talk about misrepresentation!), you know there's a cloying minute of resplendence right around the corner. 16 songs, p'haps for the first time since Blur's 'Parklife', seems about the perfect amount.
It too finishes where it commences, with that buoyed, abstruse line of "Sometimes I can't believe it, I'm moving past the feeling again" resonating like all the middle has been some unforgettable daydream. Plus, for such an exceptional piece of pop music, it's not even dribbling with the same unrestrained hope and impassion that garnered them those Grammy noms in the first place. It's the less-is-more approach that is 'The Suburbs's driving force, and the indistinct overtones within tracks like 'Ready To Start' and 'Suburban War' stuffing the horsepower. Of course the mettlesome nature is still there, but it works because husband Win Butler and wife Régine Chassagne are perpetually gushing out an insightful, sentimental and personal bedrock.
'Modern Man', for example, contemplates the confusion of modernity and that sometimes twitchy wait for the end. "How come you can't sleep at night? In line for a number but you don't understand," Butler declares of the unknowing, all the while there's an amicable drift of braiding noise thrilling below.
Naturally, the phenomenon of self-discovery is covered, as "the night tears us loose and in the half light we're free" in 'Half Light I', only "we knew this day would come, still it took us by surprise; In this town where I was born, I now see through a dead man's eyes," he casts back in 'Half Light II (No Celebration)'. This longing for youth and former memories comes both forlorn and familiar, as an all-out chorus of, "One day they will see it's long gone," carries heady keys and some semi-jungle rhythm. Jason Reitman could make a movie franchise out of 'Half Light' parts I and II alone.
'Suburban War' is the best of a brilliant bunch, however. It plays on the risk of recollection ("They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in") but ends with the maturation of finding one's own path ("You choose your side, I'll choose mine; All my old friends, they don't know me now").
One line in 'Month Of May' so characteristic of modern-day West goes, "Well, I know it's heavy, I know it ain't light; But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?" It leaps out like a fitting dressing-down to the carefree do-nothings of society... You know who you are! Or you don't, that's kinda the point.
And 'Sprawl I (Flatland)' - a graceful, reflective build-up to its even-better sequel 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' - is where you assume there to exist a happy ending. "Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small, that we can never get away from the sprawl, living in the sprawl; Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains, and there's no end in sight, I need the darkness someone please cut the lights," trills Chassagne, aka old suburbia can be suffocating, but anything else is after all delusional. Depressing for sure, but about as real and ingenuous as they come.
'The Suburbs', quite frankly, is crucial, and the great Arcade Fire record we've been lingering for all along. The truth has never come so sweet...

Best Track
Suburban War