by / July 29th, 2010 /

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

 3/5 Rating

(Merge / Universal)

If Arcade Fire’s recent and surprisingly underwhelming Oxegen headliner did anything, it quite possibly put things in perspective. While many of us had them pinned as returning heroes, the truth was that they clearly meant a hell of a lot less to the masses than Jay-Z, Eminem and even Paolo Nutini. While that may have not been so much of shock, the fact that they were largely unable to stir those that were there was more worrying.

Perspective is also a handy tool when approaching The Suburbs. Come to it expecting the quintessential modern alternative rock record and you will depart disappointed, as will those looking for the sheer rush of parts of Funeral. It starts off with the meandering title track and louder but ineffectual ‘Ready To Start’. Spread out over a frankly excessive 16 tracks and 65 minutes, The Suburbs is a record that initially struggles to hold your attention. Put it on in the background and it is very unlikely that you’ll be stopped in your tracks. There are no epic call to arms, nothing designed to woo those floating mainstream voters. What there is a string of songs that require a deal of work on the listener’s part, not because they are particularly difficult but because their true nature takes a while to unearth.

‘Modern Man’ picks the record up on track three, a simple number that belies a darker heart. It’s a theme that runs through the album, with lyrics constantly referencing the past, doubt and a yearning for a better future. The Suburbs isn’t exactly gloomy, but it certainly isn’t joyful either. It does rock though. ‘Empty Room’ and ‘Month Of May’ are ferocious and energised, which suits them well. They’re able to do subtle too, with the gorgeous ‘City With No Children’ seemingly based around the riff from ‘Street Fighting Man’ and painting a forlorn picture of life ‘”in a private prison”.

The problem with The Suburbs is that the fine songs are themselves trapped in an album that often simply underperforms. It’s a fine line between the tracks that blossom over time and the ones that simply don’t work but it’s one that Arcade Fire cross on too many occasions here. When they cut loose towards the album’s close, they are dizzyingly brilliant. ‘We Used To Wait’ and ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ both take them into new, electronic directions and are superb. The latter in particular is a glorious Europop-style tune (no really) and a reminder that our faith is not unjustified. Somewhere amongst all this lies a fantastic 40 minute record but as a whole, The Suburbs is fine – nothing more, nothing less. Time for that perspective then. The Arcade Fire are a good band, not yet a great one. If they can learn a to focus their vision, however, that status may be round the corner.

Listen to the album here.

Listen: Spotify | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube

  • copout

    umm, i’ll think you’ll find they already became great around 2004, and legendary in 2007. that 40 mins album you mention may well be flawless but so is the 63 mins one, with overlapping themes, songs bleeding into another. but i’m sure you’re one of those people who likes to leave 3/4 of the way through a movie at the cinema. this is an album about life, all tension and release. if you want only catharsis and childish sustained delivery for 30 mins then i suggest you jog on to the latest Oasis-sanctioned band.

  • “…and legendary in 2007.”

    Seriously? With an album that failed to live up to expectations after ‘Funeral’? Don’t get me wrong, ‘Neon Bible’ is good but all-in-all it failed to live up to the hype.

    Haven’t heard ‘The Suburbs’ yet so I can’t comment on that.

  • Conor McCaffrey

    2 cents’ worth alert… Neon Bible is better than Funeral.

  • this is a much better affair than the cold unforgiving neon bible ,i really like it and the more you listen the more it makes sense ,not just a fine album ,a very fine album 😉

  • I think copout is a little to in love with the album. i think it is great. First listen i thought overlong, meandering and lost in a sea of hype.

    I did think that track 11 really marked a change in the hole tone of the album. The pace quickened, and everything seemed to pick up.

    Next listen I got a lot more into the Suburbs. I just think it is a great album. Not sure about the whole preachiness of it but I like it.

    Nice to see a balanced review

  • copout

    i may be too in love with this but that wasn’t always the case. i hated the singles to begin with and didn’t care much about the other leaks. and then when i heard it as a whole, something clicked. i saw the vision, the power, the talent, and the sheer fantasy and wonderment (not seen since echo and the bunnymen).
    this record does something to you. and it’s not simply to your body or mind, although those bases are covered. it stirs something deep in the core, something intangible based on biology and psychology. the suburbs for me is the undiluted power of music caressing the soul. it’s a 10 and some.

  • Tru That

    How many times have u even listened to this album?. It seems u are more concerend with this album being liked by the masses, but it is clear the masses have no taste whatsoever, just listen to mainstream radio for a day and u will know. As a whole this album is a masterpiece. Yeah it doesnt have the epicness of funeral but who wants the same stuff rehashed again and again. Ready to start ineffectual ur havin a laugh. Maybe u should stick to reviewing music for the masses and leave the quailty stuff to people with proper taste.

  • @copout

    “the suburbs FOR ME”

    I’ve taken the liberty of putting the relevant words in obnoxious capitals. I don’t know what it is about album reviews but it seems to bring out the boorish idiot in people. Try to learn how to deal with opposing views in future.

  • copout

    ^muppet
    what’s the point in comments’ sections if you can’t articulate exactly those opposing views, instead say of bear-beating people and missing the point so much you’re blatantly wrong. past your bedtime me thinks too, school tomorrow.

  • “what’s the point in comments sections if you can’t articulate exactly those opposing views, instead say of bear-beating people and missing the point so much you’re blatantly wrong.”

    Yes, articulating opposing views instead of bear-beating people is something we like to see. It would’ve been great if you could’ve done that in your first comment without resorting to throwing snide remarks at the reviewer.

  • Sean

    It’s July.
    Nobody has school tomorrow.

    Anyway, I reckoned it was decent the first few times I heard it, but it’s nothing spectacular in my eyes. Think the review is pretty fair. They needed a belter (not least for their bank balances if the NME is to be believed) but this for me fell short of expectations.

  • shark sandwich

    This album is a monumental achievement – a great piece of art. The anthems are still there though this time they are less overwrought, less certain and form a narrative with cinematic scope. The Suburbs has all of the uncertainty, clarity and contradictions that can be found in the best art.

    “if they can learn to focus there vision…” – not trying to be confrontational for the sake of it but how much more focused in their vision could they possibly be if they’ve just produced a subtle, nuanced and cohesive 65 min mediation on The Suburbs?

    This is an album for people who love albums, most likely it won’t be a commercial hit …mainstream audiences have probably moved on to 3rd rate Arcade Fire copyists like Mumford and Sons and their brand of unconvincing vapid twee drivel. So they failed to entertain the crowd at a pop festival like Oxegen and this album will probably sell less than Funeral and Neon Bible but aren’t these things all beside the point in a music review?

  • Ah yes, over-zealous fan outrage strikes again!

    Arcade fire are a good band but I don’t they’ll ever again hit the brilliance of funeral. I’m enjoying The Suburbs but it’s far from mindblowing.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I find the debates highly entertaining, but the fact that people can get so upset about someone’s opinion on something so subjective is more than a touch pathetic. This is quite a balanced review, we’ve slated things far more harshly before (ducks head); if you think it’s great, what does it matter that Phil thinks it’s average? Yes, the comments section is for putting across that opinion, but it’s not for insulting the author for disagreeing with you. I’m pretty sure if he argued his side down the pub he wouldn’t be insulted like this, the Internet really shouldn’t be any different.

    For the record, personally I think it’s their worst album to date. It’ll still get a lot of listens no doubt, and it might be a grower (I’ve only heard it twice to date), but I’m certainly not of the opinion that Phil’s slagging off a masterpiece. Just my tuppence worth.

  • paddy roche

    Is this is the same Phil Udell who seemed to actually like the jedward album ( now maybe i was wrong but the tone of the review was definetly leaning towards a sneaking admiration ). Seems like the Eammonn Dunphy school of journalism is alive and well. If the masses like it –> it must be shit and vice versa. Lazy Journalism at its best.

  • Eamon Dunphy likes Jedward? Do you have any evidence at all??

  • Paddy, read the review like a grownup and see that Phil makes his points without an agenda.

  • Kev

    Wow this was getting quite aggressive wasn’t it?

    I like “the Suburbs” but I think it’ll take time to see if I love it. I didn’t love “Neon Bible” initially but it grew on me. And as for “Funeral”… Well it’s a classic.

    The album seems to be a blend of the first two I think. Some upbeat “Funeral”y songs, some downbeat “Neon Bible” type tracks. Needed a little more from Regine though. Her voice is stunning and she really breaths some life into the album as it peters out toward the end.

    Not a fan of “Month of May” either I must say…

  • “If the masses like it –> it must be shit and vice versa”

    “Is this is the same Phil Udell who seemed to actually like the jedward album?”

    Anyone else see the contradiction there? Reviewing pop albums is a no win for any even vaguely alternative site. Say it’s good/ okay/ bad any you’re going to get slammed for it, best we can do is just be honest. Both this and the jedward review are just that. Some people really need to calm down, it’s just an opinion.

  • Catman

    Cant believe this album scored the same as Jedwards album I thought this was supposed to be a serious music site. Only had 3 listens to the album and there’s already a load of standout tracks even more than I found with initial listens to Neon Bible. Get a grip Phil!!!

  • KeeKee

    I think Arcade Fire are a “grower” band in terms of their albums. It took me about a year to “get” Funeral, but like anything you give time, I ended up loving the album.

    Neon Bible I thought was alot more immediate, No cars go and Keep the Car Running were instant classics on first listen, but I didn’t go on to like the album as much as I liked the first.

    This new album, I’ve only played twice and I’ve picked out two or three songs already I really like, but I reckon I’ll give it a few weeks more until I cast my mighty judgement upon it……………!

  • paddy roche

    must have touched a nerve here with the journos ? closed shop in here as far as criticism of the elect few.

    A simple fact… The jedward album recieved a very similar rating as the arcade fire album by the same reviewer. How can the review/reviewer/site be expected to be taken serious ?

  • Paddy,

    You’re oversimplifying things to suit yourself. The two albums received the same rating for quite different reasons. Read both reviews again and think about it.

    Anyhow, perish the thought that someone might have a broader musical taste than your own… and if it was a closed shop re. criticism here then the facility wouldn’t exist for you to leave comments.

  • I actually agree with many comments on the merits of this album. As I said in the review, at its best I think this is the finest work that the band has done. However we have to review what’s put in front of us I and I did feel that they could have comfortably trimmed the record by twenty minutes. It is an album that you need to spend time with but, since the growing record company paranoia on leaks (which happened here anyway) has set to limit access to reviewers we often have to work quickly – listening to a record consecutively as opposed to living with it. So maybe I’ll feel differently about this in a few months, maybe not.

    To briefly deal with the other comments. The mass appeal point was to put the band’s commercial status in the context of the hysteria with which that the media often approaches them, when you review an album you do so with a number criteria – taking them both on their own terms and in relation to other releases in that genre – and petty name calling is something we get used to, although it usually comes from the less mature. Keep the related comments on this album’s musical merits coming though, I’m genuinely very interested to see what people make of it.

  • Shane Lyons

    I pretty much fully agree with this review. I approached the album hoping to enjoy it, I am a big fan of their previous two albums (although Funeral far more then Neon Bible) and their gig in the Olympia a few years back is probably the best gig I’ve ever been to.

    Unfortunately, this album hasn’t clicked with me (yet anyway). I’ve given it about 6 listens so far and while i like soome of the opening and closing tracks i think there is a long, dissapointing lull in the middle of the album. A lot of the songs are really unremarkable and dare i say it bland which is really unlike the loud, brash and uplifting Arcade Fire of old.

    I admire what they’ve tried to achieve with this record, it is definitely an album that will be enjoyed most when listened to from start to finish, but I, like Phil would have preferred if it was 5 songs leaner.

  • james smith

    I have to say I really never was a fan of either funeral or neon bible. Too bombastic at times and, especially, in the case of neon bible, they just left me cold.
    This on the other hand I personally feel to be easily the best record of the year and so far outstrips anything they’ve done previously its almost laughable.
    And I don’t think this will get alter there mainstream status. But if anything this summer has shown them that they’re far more of an EP band than a Oxegen one.