Arcade Fire aren’t a rock festival band. Oxegen 2010 proved that to a lot of people. It wasn’t the fact that the setlist contained as-then unheard songs, it was because they are not suited to being in the great outdoors with a couple of hundred adoring fans and then a few more thousand casual ones. Thus, a lot of you weren’t expecting much from the new album. I wasn’t either, but that was because I expected them to be continuing the decline in quality seen in the drop off from Funeral to Neon Bible. Luckily, everyone of us was wrong.
Arcade Fire are an indoor, intimate band. They’re not U2 or Coldplay. They’re not even Kings of Leon. It’s just unfortunate that they can no longer play small venues as they draw too big a crowd. Neon Bible was a small venue album, but one that never reached greater heights. On the other hand, The Suburbs, is a small venue album that reaches for the stars at every opportunity. It’s their most ambitious record yet, and at sixteen songs in length is their way of saying we don’t give a toss what you think of our last record, we’re just going to do what we want.
The Suburbs isn’t as good as Funeral. Let’s get that out of the way. Not too many albums are. But it is a vast improvement on Neon Bible. However, at sixteen songs long, it was bound to suffer from being overlong. Has there ever been an album 15 tracks plus that hasn’t had a filler tune here and there? Yes, even The Wall and The White Album have their duds. Likewise, there could have been a few songs cut from the tracklist, most notably ‘The Sprawl I’. On the other hand, ‘The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ is an Arcade Fire classic.
Similarly, there’s no need for the reprise of ‘The Suburbs’ at the end (or ‘The Suburbs (continued)’) as it likes to be called. ‘Month of May’ sounds like a poor imitation of Queens of the Stone Age’s sped-up rock. ‘Empty Room’ is far from a standout. However, there are gems galore here. The first three tracks especially. It’s probably the best opening run of the year. The title track eases you in with a charming melody, before ‘Ready to Start’ shows Arcade Fire’s real rock calibre – it’s up there with any of the ‘Neighborhoods’ from Funeral. ‘Modern Man’ is an instant classic. It seems to sound like something you know really well, but I can’t place what it is (nor can anyone else), showing how good Win and Régine really are at crafting a pop song.
The best album of the year? Not a hope. But better than expected? Certainly. The Suburbs is the Arcade Fire back on form. It’s an ambitious album, that has really paid off, and will silence many of their doubters.