Album Reviews

Album Review: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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.

Related posts:

  1. Album Cover: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  2. Stream: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  3. Setlist: Arcade Fire, Oxegen, 9 July 2010
  4. Live: Arcade Fire, Fatboy Slim at Oxegen 2010
  5. Live: Eric Clapton covers Arcade Fire ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’

20 Comments

  1. Kev

    Agree with most of what’s said here! The album suffers due to the lack of Regine I think. Her appearances are always a pleasure. Some wonderful tracks though and it is much easier to listen to than Neon Bible.

    I’ve done my own review on my own blog – wont link to it here but you know where to find it if you’re interested!

  2. I actually like the lack of Regine. She’s good on some songs, but not on all. So I think it was a good level.

    Here’s Kev’s review for anyone who’s interested:
    http://bullblacknova.blogspot.com/2010/07/album-review-arcade-fire-suburbs.html

  3. niko

    there’s a lot of crap being thrown around by reviews like this one. arcade fire offer very little that is new, and much more that is nearly directly ripped from respected bands over the past 30+ years. so what you hear is basically rooted in post-punk i.e. Joy Division, U2, The Cure, Talking Heads to luminaries such as Springsteen and Neil Young, Electronica royalty i.e. Bjork, to current hipsters such as MGMT and The Knife. Comparisons to Depeche Mode are laughable at best and serve mainly as a smoke & mirrors distraction so that you don’t think of MGMT and The Knife. Arcade Fire rip direct sounds from groups as famous and established as U2 and even worse rip direct melodies on top of similar textures from MGMT.

    Hey if you buy it, and buy into it that’s cool. I hope you like it as long as it gets you into music. However, if you deeply care about music then you may want to heed some amount of caution in knowing that this album is not nearly as adventurous as Arcade Fire and its media supporters want you to think it is. Although many of the sounds are likable, you might get frustrated as to why this sounds like a well-traveled road.

  4. niko: Does anything you said there actually apply to my review? I never said they were new or adventurous, nor did I mention Depeche Mode or anyone similar.

    And sometimes a well travelled road is exactly what you need. We can’t all be Robert Frost.

  5. I think Niko took a long walk off a short cliff.

  6. I love Neon Bible. I also love Funeral. For what it’s worth, I’m having a bit of trouble with The Suburbs. It’s a slow-burner, certainly, and the more I listen to it, the more I’m liking it. but sonically, it’s just not quite doing it for me. Just when I think something, I dunno, BIG is coming, it lets me down.

    I’m not quite into this “nothing is ever as good as the first album” thing too many reviewers do these days. There are people who will tell you everything REM did since Murmur is rubbish, and Kings of Leon have been awful ever since people started buying their music. I’m not sure you could (or should) make too many comparisons between the three Arcade Fire albums. the band is obviously evolving and have a long way to go (hopefully). The Suburbs isn’t Funeral, you’re right there. But let’s face it, it was never intended to be.

    Oh, and Niko clearly is a numpty who failed to tell us who exactly IS unique and doesn’t rip anyone off.

  7. Niko

    to Robster – some of those artists that you’d like to know about who don’t or haven’t blatantly ripped off other artists might be: Beethoven, Mozart, Satie, Bach, Anton Weburn, George Crumb, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorius, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Nina Simone, Prince (until his obsession of James Brown overpowered him), James Brown, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yma Sumac, Nina Simone, Talking Heads, U2 (Unforgettable Fire – Pop), The Cure, Joy Division, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Japan, Depeche Mode (although Kraftwerk was a big influence), The Who, Iggy Pop, Klaus Nomi, Van Halen, Television, The Kinks, Queen, Blondie, Black Sabbath, Radiohead, Ozric Tentacles, Sade, Aphex Twin, Skinny Puppy, Fennesz, Portishead, Amon Tobin (Foley room), Foetus, Louis Armstrong, Barbara Streisand (whether i like her or not), Thelonius Monk, Buckwheat Zydeco, Burial, Ulrich Schnauss, Telefon Tel Aviv, Debussey, Scriabin, Frederic Chopin, Hector Berlioz, Edith Piaf, Scott Joplin, Trilok Gurtu, Melle Mel, Biggie Smalls, Afrika Bambaataa….

    oh…and Coldplay, Milli Vanilli, Vanilla Ice, Menudo, The Osmond Family, and Hanson. :-) Creating this list might make me seem pretentious, but oh well. YOU ASKED.

    the Arcade Fire album after further listen is better than I thought and not as good as sooo many critics and fans want it to be. I do think it is better than Neon Bauble however. Although, I must say that I am not so impressed with the production on any of their albums, but perhaps the perceived sloppiness is intentional. They have Markus Dravs (speelling?) for goodness sakes…he should be able to do better! Even on The Suburbs…I hear a lot of treble hiss on certain tracks. Very odd. I get the idea of lo-fi production but when most of it sounds clear and crisp and then it’s got hiss or a fake layer of lo-fi – it raises a few red flags for me.

  8. Niko: It easily could be argued that all of those artists on your list “ripped off” other artists. Take the Beatles for example (they’re the biggest name of all on there – as regards pop music anyway). They were greatly influenced by Little Richard, Harry Nilsson, and especially Chuck Berry. Hell, even the Beach Boys were an influence on their later albums.

    There’s no such thing as a new artist coming up with an entirely new sound. It’s impossible.

  9. Niko

    ah good discussion now. sure the Beatles had their influences but i don’t think they ever ripped off Chuck Berry. They did some covers of his as early demos i believe. As for the Beach Boys…The Beatles liked them and were happy to have another band as competition in a way. I would not say the Beatles ever ripped the Beach Boys, lol. Back to the USSR, is as close of an argument for your case I think, but that was a cheeky reaction. They were directly telling the Beach Boys “We Hear You”, and it employed a sense of humor, and cleverness.

    Tell me who did Jaco Pastorius rip off? Who sounded like Mozart, really, before Mozart? Okay, I’ll make it easy…who sounded like Eddie Van Halen before him? – Would it be Hendrrix? Sure they are both virtuosic, but they sound completely different.

    Yes, I understand musicians all have some kind of influence. But some have either absorbed it to the point it is unrecognizable, or some understand and revere their influences so much that they run completely in the opposite direction, and their are some who consciously want to make their own statement and drive themselves mad creating something new. These people are innovators. Arcade Fire so far are mainly followers because you could actually pin-point their mentors in every other bar of their music and sometimes even on specific notes, the way a chord is played, etc. They have some promise but they still have to develop a sound that’s really theirs without the listener consciously thinking of other artists.

    I do believe it is possible to still invent new forms of music and I believe certain individuals lead the way. I understand why you feel as you do, because in pop music and its sub-genres including indie-pop/rock there haven’t been many new ideas. Certainly, as indie-rock becomes a more established and aging genre it will be even more difficult.

    These days you have to turn to deeper more avant-garde artists to find true innovation. I haven’t heard anything from indie or any other pop music in the last couple years that has truly blown my mind.

  10. Remy

    umm…yeah. Never thought I’d say it, but Arcade Fire make Oasis look like innovators. And, we all know that’s a joke. The problem is these guys are so conscious of their influences. maybe they listen to too much music? I’m a musician (not trying to be pretentious), and I know it’s dangerous to listen too much to any particular band. I actually try to not listen to any rock, indie whatever during a month that i’m recording…because sounds or melodies might seep through from music that’s structured similarly to mine. I put on something Classical, or maybe Ambient, Jazz or anything that I think might spark some creativity but that I wouldn’t personally be able to copy or retain in my sub-conscious.

    Arcade are pretty decent but c’mon they’re not amazing. I think it’s music for people who want to feel arty but are more trendy than anything. It’s neither complicated or brilliantly simplistic. It’s just decent rock, alt-pop that reminds me of better days in the more mainstream scene.

  11. Niko, excellent points there. I won’t comment on Mozart or Bach because I’m not knowledgeable about classical music.

    However, Arcade FIre aren’t bringing anything new, you’re right. However, they do a damn good job of combining their influences and making well-formed rock songs as seen by my statement in the review: “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.”

    You’re right, they are followers. But they’re better followers than most.

  12. James

    Niko is a pretentious snob who doesn’t know anything about REAL music. Arcade Fire is the best, most innovative and revolutionary band of modern times. They put everything out there to shame. They make wayne coin shut his big phony gob. Wayne only wishes the Flaming Hips sounded half as fresh and original as Arcade Fire. So, Niko – just shut up and stop lying to your self and everyone. Go listen to Bach…that’s so OLD!

    Ask almost any musician, and read almost any respectable review and they will all agree that Arcade Fire are the best band pretty much ever. You morons don’t realize how many bands have been and will be inspired by Arcade Fire in the future. Even if they were to copy (which they dont) it would sound better than the original crap. Just because someone invented the record and record player does that mean that someone else who invented the CD and mp3 just copied and therefore it’s not better than the original? Such a ridiculous conversation wouldnt you say?

    Anyhow, I don’t much care for this review. You mr. reviewer don’t state your points clearly and I think you have a twisted opinion. maybe you’re just trying to keep it real or whatever, but i think you’re downplaying how great this album is. you can’t be serious thats for sure.

    anyhow, Nico is a camel-toed knucklehead!

  13. I didn’t want to edit or censor that last post. It’s too good not to share.

    Thanks James. This is my favourite bit:
    “Anyhow, I don’t much care for this review. You mr. reviewer don’t state your points clearly and I think you have a twisted opinion. maybe you’re just trying to keep it real or whatever, but i think you’re downplaying how great this album is. you can’t be serious thats for sure. “

  14. Destiny

    James…..YOU can’t be serious? At least I hope not. This is what worries me about ‘fans’.

  15. Nice list Niko. Totally agree with Ronan – the Beatles were influenced extremely heavily by the rock ‘n’ roll greats. They plied their trade in Europe playing those songs for two or three years before they became famous. Even their later work during the ‘Get Back’ sessions and the ‘White Album’ showed they continued to wear their influences on their sleeves.

    As for Mozart – you are right, he was an innovator. but Beethoven? It is well documented how hugely influenced he was by Mozart. There are even direct parallels to Mozart in some of Beethoven’s best known works. Iggy Pop? The Sonics. The Who? The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Sonics! The Kinks? One of my favourite bands of all time, but they were influenced very heavily by the Blues in their early days, and by the mid-60s, sure Ray Davies adopted a unique writing style that has been oft-imitated, but you only have to look at English cabaret acts of the time, like Tommy Steele and Anthony Newley (the latter a massive influence on a young David Bowie) to see where he drew some inspiration from.

    I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make – and it’s one I think you’re hinting at yourself – is that it’s pointless trying to claim that anything is totally new, someone, somewhere has done something like it before. I’m not sure Arcade Fire have ever claimed to be so new and original themselves. That’s just been heaped upon them.

    I agree with you about the production. It’s definitely lacking something.

    And sorry about calling you a numpty. You are clearly very knowledgeable and informed in your music. I don’t necessarily agree with all you have said, but I reckon I would really enjoy a good music-related discussion with you over a few pints down the pub. (And you too, Ronan!) James meanwhile can stay at home and drink his lemonade – he’s clearly the numpty around here…

  16. Niko

    Hey Robster…nice rebuttal! Ah…but you’ve walked into my trap somewhat (just kidding!). The more I think about it you’re probably right about The Beatles, although even with their influences they had such a distinct sound.

    Mozart…hands down innovator and a bit of a punk too ;-) He wrote everything from his head 1 time and never changed it. Ah, except he changed an instrument from flute to oboe only once in Symphony No. 40.

    Beethoven…I’ll stick with what I said although what you said is correct. His father would beat him and said he was a bum & that he’d never be as good as Mozart. He planned on studying with him too. But, you forget – NO ONE before Beethoven played the low end of the piano. It was considered ugly at that time. So, he rebelled against that and explored the low end in many compositions. Also, He may have been the 1st to start a symphony or any piece of music the way he started his 5th Symphony which lol, a top 40 artist would kill for today. Lastly, when he lost his hearing he started forgetting the normal accepted (at that time) playing ranges for instruments and voices….so he started writing in what people thought were extreme ranges and many musicians thought they couldn’t play or sing his music. They thought he was mad! I’m referring specifically to his 9th symphony. And, let’s not forget – many don’t consider Beethoven to be a part of the Classical period at all, but at the beginning of the Romantic period. His philosophy to music was much different that Mozart. Mozart floated in the air with his perfect melodies …while Beethoven believed God could be found deep in the Bowels of man.

    Ah yes, you’re right about the Kinks…man a lot of cabaret acts influenced the slightly more avant garde rock artists.

    A pint would be great. i love discussions and debate about music. i’m a musician! too bad i’m in Philadelphia in the U.S. But, one never knows! I might have family still in Ireland.

    James…lol. whatever. I guess I’m glad I fired you up because at least it shows passion about music. that’s cool. I’ve spent some more time with this Arcade Fire record, and I watched the performance on youtube live at Madison Sq. Garden in NY…and all in all it was pretty awesome. The passion and energy were tremendous and refreshing, considering that some bands always play it cool. The music IMHO is much better live. I was impressed, and I’d like to rescind some of what I said including my tone towards their music. They are a young band, and for what they’ve accomplished so far, they’re pretty darn good. Some of my criticisms remain but perhaps I need to keep in mind that they are a sort of Rock band after all and certain progressions are typical if they are to be a part of that genre. All in all, I think they are one of the better and more promising bands out there. Okay? Satisfied? :-p

    But yeah, The Robster, I’m a little puzzled about the production for a band & a producer at this level. Didn’t Markus Dravs learn anything from Brian Eno? Of course, even the great OZ, I mean Eno has had slightly questionable production lately, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum with over-production rather than under like in this case. ;-)

  17. I never thought I’d visit a music blog like this and end up discussing classical music!!! From Arcade Fire to Beethoven? Wow, wonder what they (AF) would say about that…

    I’ll take your point about Beethoven. My classical knowledge is limited to say the least, but what you say makes perfect sense. And Eno – a bit of a flawed genius in the studio. If he doesn’t let his ego overawe him, he can make an average artist sound amazing. Sadly, he’s not terribly consistent…

  18. I love the new record, I must be the only person who prefers Neon Bible to Funeral and always have. I have just never had an emotion reaction or realtionship with Funeral but loved Neon Bible from the first listen. Nice review though enjoyed your take on.

  19. Becca

    Great review! AF fans should check out the band’s “Take Away Show” here, it’s pretty awesome: http://www.ourstage.com/blog/2010/8/12/viewer-discretion-advised-la-blogotheque-the-take-away-shows

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