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Tag Archives: We Used to Wait

If ‘The Suburbs’ had a tagline, if could read ‘Now with 40% more Arcade Fire!’. The album is longer, the songs bigger, the concepts sprawling. And it couldn’t sound better. It proves that despite a three year wait between albums, the band hasn’t run out of creativity or surprises. They have managed to actually get better at what they do, namely, deliver monstrously orchestral rock songs with emotional hurricanes at their cores. ‘The Suburbs’ takes the drama and anger and sadness of their previous albums ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’ and directs it to the malaise of the ordinary. Singer Win Butler sounds like Francis Ford Coppola when he says that the album β€œis neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs, it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The greatest triumph of the album is that even with the mundane subject matter, the songs are richer and more varied than ever.

Things open up with the eponymous, intentionally misleading bright single. It sounds like a lazy summer evening, with the band practicing on the front porch, singing about overpasses, grass and grabbing the keys. But it steadily shifts tone until the final confession at the end: ‘In my dreams we’re still screaming’ and music segues cleanly into ‘Ready to Start’. The band plugs in the guitars, layers on the production and reminds you, HEY! You’re listening to Arcade Fire! The effects shimmer and the sounds builds until the final minute when you know things are going to veer again and burst into something glorious.

‘Rococo’ brings a bitter indie stomp with hints at the harder rock sounds to come. ‘Empty Room’ follows with a busy flurry of strings before things fall into ‘ City With No Children’ which sounds of all things like Kieth Richards playing a lick for Bruce Springsteen. Butler sings about ‘The summer that I broke my arm’ and ‘We listened to the engine failing’, delivering lyrics like Polaroids.

For however outstanding the first half the album is, nothing can prepare you for the spectacular trilogy of highlights in the second act. ‘Half Light II’ is a densely layered crystalline cathedral of sound, with gentle synth beats and languid strings over rushing guitar melodies. It reaches the highs of ‘Wake Up’ and ‘No Cars Go’ while still keeping an air of gentle flow rather than full on bombast. The songwriting is some of the most personal and soul bearing on the album as Butler sings ‘Wanna wash away my sins/In the presence of my friends.” It’s a blunt confession that breaks your heart just for being so honest. ‘Suburban War’ is almost as good, with a grand finale that builds tension without ever completely resolving it, keeping the listener feeling slightly uneasy to the end. The trio of songs resolves with ‘Month of May’, one of the several stylistic surprises on the album. Just when you expect another orchestral anthem, the song bursts out of the gate with a jagged driving guitar which never lets up. It’s the most straightforward rock song Arcade Fire has recorded, but it still fits the tone of the album, with a jittery nervous mood. It’s a masterful transition from song to song, changing styles but holding onto the thematic integrity.

The final act turns further inward, and at times feels like the band might be repeating themselves. ‘We Used to Wait’ is the kind of song that seems too easy for them to crank out at this point. Nervous lyrics? Check. Layered, dense production? Check. Slow burning, building finale? Check. On ‘Funeral’, this would have been a highlight. On the epic ‘Suburbs’, it’s just another chapter. It’s a minor gripe, since it feels like complaining about having too much of a good thing.

The final surprise is possibly the best: ‘Sprawl II’ is a full on new wave dance track. Arcade Fire has always shared a thematic kinship with bands like Talking Heads. But they’ve never fully embraced the sound until now. If you check your music player to make sure Blondie hasn’t gotten mixed into the album, you’re not alone. Even with the throwback sound, it’s still is unmistakably modern. The synths are lush and beats clean as candy. It’s a unusual achievement since it is both unique in the Arcade Fire catalog and one of the best tracks they’ve ever recorded.

The only issue with the album could be the length. At just over an hour, the album is a good fifteen to twenty minutes longer than their previous LPs. But it’s hard to pick out any songs that don’t belong or that should have been left out. Sequencing and rhythm are important on a conceptual album and everything here is exactly where it should be. The third act does slow down, but that only makes the final impact of ‘Sprawl II’ that much more dazzling. Arcade Fire has delivered another instant classic, a document of today. This is what daily life feels like, living in the post-Bush era. Yes, things got a little better, we avoided the apocalypse, so why are we still so unsatisfied?