Talking to Their Generation

On Further Review:
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs
by Dan Lavender

Sometimes albums are created at just the right time.
It's not an exact science. It's probably luck in fact, when a band is able to tap into the zeitgeist of so many people. For example, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released at exactly the right time: a little earlier, and Nirvana would have upset some poodle rockers; later and the indie dance mob would have sneered at Cobain’s unsophisticated yelling. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was aimed firmly at the disenfranchised teens of the X/Y generation, trapped with their parents in a nowhere suburb, aching to leave for the big city and adventure. Arcade Fire’s new albumThe Suburbs” is aimed firmly at the same generation today. Most have returned to the faceless suburbs, all grown up, with jobs, kids and responsibilities, wondering "where did it all go?"

It's a rarity these days to find an album with a coherent story from start to finish. The album is bookended by the title track “The Suburbs,” the reprise of which carries the mournful lines (longing for those empty summer days as kids.)

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I would only waste it again

The album plays with various sounds of the 80's, the prog-rock of “Modern Man” and “Rococo” give way to the Joshua Tree era U2 of “Half Light II,” to the early 90's indie punk of “Empty Room” (which could've been a track on Belly's magnificent Star album of 1993). Before the reprise of the last track, the album concludes on a bitter-sweet throwback to Blondie with “Sprawl II,” lamenting the facelessness of the urban sprawl that we were trapped in, fought against, but, ultimately, unwittingly returned to.

Listening to The Suburbs is like an opera or a soundtrack of your childhood - if you're between 30 and 40 that is. This may ultimately be the album’s only major flaw - its lack of relevance to the youth of today. It's so retrospectively 80's, as is the current trend, that listening to this album in 12 months time might make it sound like a grand piece of hackneyed nostalgia.

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