I’ll get straight to the point here. I am convinced Arcade Fire can do no wrong musically. No, haven’t been brainwashed and I’m not experiencing delayed side affects from the cold that kept me from writing this review last week. It’s been more than three years since Neon Bible was released, but The Suburbs was worth the wait.
The Suburbs shows a more refined and subtle Arcade Fire than heard on their first two albums. There’s still the orchestral depth that originally caught the music world’s attention, but this album replaces distorted electric guitar with acoustic picking patterns and soul-stirring church organ with jaunty piano.
While the album is lighter than the band’s other work, it’s certainly not a watered down version of the Arcade Fire we’ve come to know over the past few years. As usual, the lyrics are fantastic, and packed with themes many musicians wouldn’t dare to touch – and probably wouldn’t handle as gracefully if they tried. Despite the softer feel to the album, there’s a sense of frustration stemmed from unnecessary pretension that can come with suburban life. As someone who’s been stuck in the ‘burbs all summer, I can certainly relate.
Arcade Fire - Sprawl II
Like the two previous Arcade Fire albums, Win Butler takes lead vocals for most of the songs. On Funeral and Neon Bible I always felt he had a shrill, almost panicked tone in his voice, but he seems to have relaxed a bit for this one. Even on the heavier track “Month of May,” his vocals are dialed down. But he sings in a softer tone without losing any of the emotion he packs into his performances.
Another new development for the band is the use of electronic instrumentation on a few tracks. It comes through in the background of “Half Light II” and stands out in “Sprawl II,” but the band hasn’t overdone it. In fact, I didn’t even notice there was electronic stuff going on until I’d listened to the album a few times and realized it was new for the band. I guess that just shows how skillfully Arcade Fire managed to incorporate a new element into their sound.
Arcade Fire may take their time with writing and recording new music, but it pays off. I can’t wait to hear more – even if it takes another three years.