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The Suburbs
Artist: The Arcade Fire
Label: Merge
Time: 16 tracks/1 hour

The Arcade Fire is back with their third full-length, and like its predecessors, it's a theme record, this time focusing on the topic of, you guessed it, the suburbs.  If there was only one adjective to describe this effort, it would be "sprawling," and considering the subject matter, I'm guessing that was probably intentional on the band's part.  With sixteen tracks encompassing a broad range of styles and genres, this record is just too much to take in during just one listen.  I personally went through it three times before I felt comfortable enough to review it.

 While the band mixes it up, they do manage to make the diversity in the songs work for the record, rather than against it.  Starting with the baroque chamber pop of the title track, they careen through a variety of styles, making them all flow seamlessly.  This is most evident in the way the glam punk of "Month of May" segues into the country folk of "Wasted Hours."  As far as the quality of the music, the album's best songs are its most ambitious.  "Half Light I" builds into "Half Light II (No Celebration)," relying on propulsive drumming and simmering synthesizers as well as some lush string arrangements.  The album's climax, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is one of its strongest tracks and features bubbling 80's synths and pulsating drums along with Regine Chassagne's light vocals that grow in intensity as the song moves along.  It wouldn't sound out of place on a Blondie record.

 And now the question must be asked: how does The Arcade Fire feel about the suburbs?  Well, if you couldn't tell from the bleak, empty photographs of suburban homes in the album art, then lyrics like these from the title track will definitely give it away:

So can you understand why I want a daughter
While I'm still young?
I want to hold her hand
And show her some beauty
Before all this damage is done.

I appreciate lyrics like this, because it shows the author is thinking critically about things, and not enough of that happens in society these days.  However, it is certainly possible to engage in critical thinking and still come to the wrong conclusion.  It's not the rampant consumerism pervading the suburbs that is the root of the world's ills, but the rampant sin that pervades the hearts of men.  Of course, the saving grace of Christ is what opens our eyes to these truths, so it's natural for someone who hasn't embraced that to hang the blame on something else.

The Suburbs is a strong effort and worthy of picking up.  It's not as good as their debut, Funeral, but it is much better than the hit-and-miss Neon Bible.  It's musically diverse, yet cohesive at the same time, and while I don't agree with its conclusions, its lyrics make some interesting points that will get you thinking about the way we live our lives.

Eric Landfried 


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