"The Suburbs." Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire landed national attention and wide acclaim with the release of 2004's "Funeral," an album that inspired a reverent following as well as being considered an essential tome in modern rock.
The band followed that up with 2007's "Neon Bible," a much more dour record that meshed Bruce Springsteen's stark narratives with emotionally wrought anthems and dirges. Although "Bible" was met with less hyperbole than "Funeral," it has aged particularly well with its thematic qualities, maintaining relevance three years after its release.
The band's latest outing, "The Suburbs," is pretty far removed from the wide-eyed hopefulness that permeated "Funeral." Graced with a little more levity than "Neon Bible," the 16 tracks on "The Suburbs" have a slouchy quality, an ease at times that belies the glowering bitterness beneath the surface. Arcade Fire's musicians are still masters at conjuring the ghost worlds of youth, and much of the album is awash in a sort nostalgic haze of days spent sneaking beers in gas station parking lots, waiting around for what might happen next.
Starting off with the Crazy Horse barroom waltz of the title track, frontman Win Butler perfectly harnesses the emotionally numb feeling of contemporary life lived aimlessly. Effortlessly shifting through new-wave, punk-rock, glam and classic rock-radio like shuffling through the greatest hits of your teenage record collection, "The Suburbs" keeps things interesting throughout despite its over-an-hour run time. "Empty Room" is a sugar-rush blast of careening power-pop, while "Month of May" is all X-ish old-school punk.
The album bows out with the two-part "Sprawl (Flatland)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," the latter employing a Kate Bush/'80s electro-pop to paint pictures of dead shopping malls. This segues into a slight, hushed reprise of the title track that fades out on a mournful note.
This piece of continuity is important to point out. In a time when many have declared the long-playing album format dead, "The Suburbs" is very much an ALBUM, meant as a piece of music to be listened to in its entirety. It doesn't all sink in during the first listen, but Arcade Fire has crafted another ambitious record that aims big and hits all its targets.