After what seems like forever, Arcade Fire have finally made their return to the fold. Their third album, The Suburbs, is being released by Merge Records, and while it obviously deals with the modernity of culture in the burbs, will its musical concepts be greeted by the masses, re-raising the flag of the band above all others?
“The Suburbs” brings the album about with a nice bouncy piano, and Win Butler’s eerie croon. It’s a casual song, one thing that seems really commonplace in this collection of songs. While there’s a bit of a fluctuation in the vocals, there aren’t really a great deal of changes in this track. Moving along, you find a bit of a darker-edged swing with “Ready to Start.” However, much like the opening track, it finds itself stuck in a sort of complacent circle, almost going nowhere. In fact, the album doesn’t really go the places you’d like to see Arcade Fire go.
“Empty Room” is the first song, well, the fifth, where you actually see the band pushing themselves in a way we’re used to seeing them do. It begins with a flurry of strings, cutting in through almost the entire song. Beneath it, quietly, is a pounding rhythm that drives the pace of the song. Interestingly, the band is exploring a bit of some odd atmospherics, but in doing so, they give the listener a different dynamic altogether, something that lacked in the earlier moments of The Suburbs. The two mutually inclusive songs, “Half Light 1” and “Half Light 2” also show some changes in the structure of the band’s traditional writing, but all within reason. Elements of strong synths and layers of noise provide a little bit more depth to these tracks. That being said, there’s still not a lot of power behind these tracks, even when they do venture down new paths.
Oddly, while nothing immediately stands out within this album, as many of the tracks did on past works, you can’t really hate on a lot of these songs. “Modern Man” is by no means the world’s most creative song, and perhaps its not meant to be pushing boundaries. But, criticism on simplicity will only get you so far, as the song slowly grows on listener’s ears. “Deep Blue” is a great little ballad, but again, the band isn’t pushing too many limits. It sort of gives the impression of a demo track that would have benefited from better orchestration or production, yet at this point, it’s probably one of the tracks I’ve most enjoyed. For some reason, depth and passion seem to have waned throughout, which is personal opinion, of course, but it takes a lot of the luster away from songs that at their core, are quite enjoyable.
Everyone will surely appreciate the undertaking of commentary on the burbs, and you have to credit Win’s writing, as it is probably the strongest we’ve seen from him, at least in parts. However, as the album goes on, one might find themselves losing interest in it all, as it clearly drags out in parts. Arcade Fire will be the most polarizing talk this week around your water cooler, as brilliant moments do exist within The Suburbs. Still, it all seems a touch to mundane. If we weren’t talking about the band that came out with Funeral, then this might be a great piece of art, but knowing the band is capable of more, you get the feeling like they’ve sort of settled down, perhaps in the middle ground of their own musical suburbs.