I’ve been brooding on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs for a little while now. I wanted to review it, but found it very hard to pin down, and then the moment passed. But I do want to to note how surprised I was at the different sound that Arcade Fire uses on this record as opposed to the other albums.
One of the unique properties of their records was the huge ensemble that they recorded with, and the sheer variety of instruments they incorporated into their music. Not only did they use all of these instruments, but they were used front and center. In their music, strings were not used like synth pads, not used as filler in the background. In songs like “No Cars Go” or “Rebellion (Lies),” the strings were an integral part of the hook. It was for this reason that they were mentioned in the same breath as Owen Pallett (formerly Final Fantasy) and Beirut. The Suburbs places the strings back in the background, and the production has been transformed from the warm and acoustic aesthetic of Funeral to an indie rock sound that is regrettably more generic.
Other critics have written about this change in sound. Some have characterized it as Arcade Fire emulating some of the scope and scale of arena rock. I think this fails to acknowledge that this emulation has been an aspect of Arcade Fire’s music from the beginning. Simply listen to “Wake Up” or “Keep the Car Running:” the stomp-along, stadium filling songs have been there. What’s different in this record is that they have pulled back from the sound that differentiated them from the other bands out there that are trying the same thing.
This isn’t enough for me to dislike The Suburbs. In most other respects, it’s a new Arcade Fire release, something I’ve been looking forward to. But it is true that they’ve removed one of the characteristics of their music that made me fall in love with them in the first place.