By Vish KhannaCrafting their most dynamic album, Arcade Fire explore big concepts from fascinating, impassioned angles, critiquing normalcy on The Suburbs. On Funeral and Neon Bible, the band dealt with alienation and impending doom via songs that were married together, cohering for battle and empowering every youthful, emotional soul that could relate. The Suburbs distinguishes itself by channeling similar feelings from a more reasoned perspective, with ambitiously eclectic singing and arrangements, and lyrics capturing frustrating sentiments without pushing for resolution. Cordoning "suburban life" off as a principal theme, the record unfolds theatrically with recurring motifs and a loose narrative, running like so many of the car engines that Win Butler references. The Suburbs balances tricky, layered sonic textures, like the glorious electro of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," with basic chord progressions and sparse tracks like "City with No Children" and the Neil Young lilt of "Wasted Hours." It's cynically nostalgic in its analysis of urban sprawl and suburban developments as consumptive traps, particularly in relation to the abject escape of "downtown." But despite war and segregation imagery, The Suburbs isn't trying to bleed the darkness for light; it's less a righteous fight than a stirring, psychological accounting of modernity.
What makes this a unique Arcade Fire record? Tim Kingsbury: After touring, we took a year off, although Win [Butler] and Régine [Chassagne] started working on ideas, and it took another year to record it. So, there was more time for ideas to come and go, and that's a big difference. And Will [Butler] really got into analog synthesizers, which is abundantly clear on this record.
Why examine "the suburbs"? It's trying to capture the feeling of growing up in that environment, to a certain extent. It's based on reality and [the] fictitious as well; there's a certain element that's almost sci-fi, with the whole suburban war. Really, it's as much of a concept record as our last two records were.
It seems more accepting of what it's critiquing. You're right; it's not really about transcending it. It's a look at it, like, you watch a film and it really captures a mood, but doesn't really leave you feeling, "Oh, this is the way." It's also more mature because we're older. The production on the last record was so big. On this one, there are moments where we thought, "This song doesn't need anything else." It gives it more room to breathe. (Sonovox)