The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
Everything about Arcade Fire is ‘big’. There are like 53 band members in the group and honestly it feels like there are more. Just about every song on “The Suburbs” is layered, complex and designed to evoke intense emotions. This is Baroque rock. Even the opening title track that starts out like a jangly, lighthearted piano number, almost immediately transforms into something much deeper and more serious; posing questions about the brevity of life and nuclear warfare…. Most intensely unsettling summer jam ever!
So can you understand?
Why I want a daughter while I’m still young
I wanna hold her hand
And show her some beauty
Before this damage is done
My favorite track on the album is probably “Modern Man”. It seems to be about someone realizing the wasted potential in their life. Like they suddenly became aware that they are trapped in the mundane routine of everyday life. That they are just going through the motions mechanically.
So I wait in line, I’m a modern man
And the people behind me, they can’t understand
Makes me feel like
Something don’t feel right
Like a record that’s skipping
I’m a modern man
And the clock keeps ticking
I’m a modern man
Yet somehow the song isn’t as dark and depressing as its Kafkian lyrics would suggest. There is more than a hint of hope in this song. Personally, I think “Modern Man” more accurately summarizes the thoughts of another great thinker/philosopher: Lloyd Dobler. You may remember that when confronted with the less than inspiring array of post high school options (Junior College, crappy job, the military) Lloyd chose to (as he put it) wait for a “dare to be great situation”. Feelin’ like that is what modern man is getting at. It’s about understanding the ease of falling into the trap of a routine life, and doing something about it.
“Month of May” is a gritty in your face rock song, complete with a shout along chorus about youth and defiance. It’s easily the most ‘fun’ song on the album. Imagine if Cat Stevens’ “father and son” was one sided and on speed, then you could start to get a feel for what this song is about.
“Sprawl II (mountains beyond mountains)” is really the last complete song on the album and the only one to put the vocals of Régine Chassagne at the forefront, and she owns it. The song misleadingly starts off like it could be a care free “Blondie” song, so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. Similar recurring heavy themes are touched on here , such as the emptiness of proletariat life, the negative effect of consumer culture, yada yada yada, ideas that we are all, at the very least, familiar with. Yet the chorus literally gives me chills:
Sometimes I wonder if the worlds so small,
Then we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And theres no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.
They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
Once again though, Arcade fire manages to keep from being too downtrodden and depressing. The song fills that gray area between loss of hope and youthful idealism. I’m sure that there is a lot that is over my head on this album. There is undoubtedly some metaphor out there that describes why Arcade Fire chose to make “The Suburbs” the focal point for such a big album about the state of the world, individuality, love and well…life. I’m just not sure I completely grasp it. Maybe life and this album are just too big for me to totally ‘get’ at the moment. It seems like there is a lot out there to ‘get’ and from what I take, it’s complicated. But then again maybe Lloyd Dobler was right when he said “Maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we’re all just hurling towards an apocalypse”.
Month of May
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) MP3
Arcade fire 5 out of 5.