Review: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
by, 13th September 2012 at 03:54 PM (209 Views)
Let me tell you a story. Today, I took a bus ride to school, and nothing of any interest happened. Rather boring story, right? Well, let me spice it up a bit: Today, I took a bus ride to school. But on the highway, as we passed a bright orange sports car, something peculiar happened. Suddenly, the bright orange sports car turned into a tyrannosaurus rex—with the same pattern as the paint job on the car. Then, it flew up into the sky using a pair of rocket shoes and literally pulled a walkie-talkie out of its ass. It then used the walkie-talkie to summon a giant alien spaceship that shot lasers at our bus, inexplicably sending it flying through the air, landing right through the roof of our cafeteria. We then got out of the bus and ate breakfast, chatting joyously about what had just happened. Much more interesting story, am I right?
Well, substitute the story with an album. Will you listen to the normal school route, or the one with the sports car that's a tyrannosaurus rex who can summon aliens with a walkie-talkie he stores in his ass? The Suburbs is the normal route. It's direct, practical, and safe. There's no chance that you might, y'know, be killed when a tyrannosaurus rex calls the aliens to blast you into oblivion. But sometimes you just have to take that bizarre route, y'know? Sometimes you need a little mix-up, something out of the norm to keep you pumped throughout the day. That normal route, and by extension, The Suburbs, elicits no emotion. It's just a way of getting from A to B, from song one to song sixteen. And good music is all about emotion, is it not? No matter how good it may be, if there's no emotion, you aren't going to enjoy the music.
What's strange to me is that Arcade Fire's previous album, Neon Bible, was an absolute fountain of emotion. It felt like you could fill a valley to the brim with the music. Just about every song had at least one part that made the hair on the back of your neck prickle—in fact, most had more than one. Unless, of course, the whole song was like this. Think the piano in Ocean of Noise, or the climax to My Body is a Cage, or the entirety of No Cars Go. It's one of my favorite albums of all time. But The Suburbs, along with all the hype and praise it's gotten, was a big let down. I did indeed listen to it on the bus this morning (sans t-rex), and by the penultimate track of the album I was glad it was almost over. It felt like you were listening to the songs inside a soundproof chamber the size of a thimble. It didn't sound like it wanted to be heard. It behaved, kept its nose clean, did exactly what it was told to do—and nothing more. It didn't feel special.
The first three songs are especially egregious. It felt like I was listening to the same song three times over—not especially good, considering the feel of the song—it wasn't bad, believe me. But it was much worse. It was boring. And that's not something you want at the beginning of an album. Just like an author must reel the reader in from the first sentence, the first song of an album needs to be one that will grab the listener's attention, something which didn't happen to me. And it gets worse. On Neon Bible—I'm not sure about Funeral, I haven't listened to it yet—but on Neon Bible, every song was interesting, unique, and thoughtful. But The Suburbs seems to be the inverse. Every song seemed exactly the same, with few exceptions. At times, certain songs had intros that seemed like they were leading into a terrific break from the norm—but it never happened. They just tiptoed back into the safe-zone.
The Suburbs has been hailed as an excellent concept album, but here's the problem—I just don't see the concept. Yes, there are the references to suburban life and its vices and virtues, and some passing mentions of a "war"—but that's it. The story, to me, obviously seems to be there, but it's in the background. There is a bare-bones plot, a vague setting, and no named characters—just numerous mentions of "the kids." The concept just doesn't want to show up. I realize it's about growing up, and life in the suburbs, and nostalgia, but it's incredibly vague and is hidden in a wash of bland music.
I really wanted to like this album, I really did. I wanted to marry it. I wanted to plant my seeds in it and take care of the children. But I just couldn't. I tried to look for certain riffs I liked, lyrics to live by, I wanted to fanboy over it for years to come. But it didn't want to go that far into our relationship yet. Who knows, maybe it's a tsundere. It's showing its cold side to me, for now. Perhaps the first listen was simply soured by high expectations. I was expecting too much of my girl. She's too modest. I was expecting the wild, yet inspiring girlfriend that was Neon Bible. And what I got was the somewhat plain girlfriend who likes simple pleasures, such as a soda can on a summer day, or a swift good night kiss. It just doesn't want to show off its deeper personality yet. Maybe after a few more listens, it'll sink into me. That was the way Kid A by Radiohead rose up to four on my list of favorite albums of all time (although the reason it was lower at first was due to something completely different than being bland—it was being strange, like that stalker that's always staring at you, yet you find oddly attractive).
But until it does sink in, I declare Neon Bible as the Arcade Fire album that I want to have sex with. She's got some freaky new moves, teaches you who's boss, and she lets me get down and dirty with other albums if I'm feeling saucy. And as a day-time girlfriend, she's much more open, likes to talk out my problems and her own problems and the problems of the world, and she'll always be there for you if you need her. And besides, if you're looking for a fresh, ambitious, emotional concept album about suburbia with a coherent storyline and which gives you a memorable experience that you can fawn over for years to come, do yourself a favor—try American Idiot by Green Day.
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