Arcade Fire's first album, Funeral, released in 2004 was a completely unexpected star-studded debut. Their second album Neon Bible was still strong, but sometimes didn't seem to have the charm of the first. Their third album The Suburbs seems like the band could have continued in a downward spiral of trying to catch the magic of Funeral. Instead, The Suburbs jumps leaps and bounds ahead of any expectations and could easily be considered a contender for one of the best albums of the year.
The Suburbs is focused precisely on the title. The husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne both sing about childhood and express their dissatisfaction at an ever changing world. The album opens with, suprise, "The Suburbs", an endearing song recalling childhood, is probably the lightest song on the album, and boasts a cheery piano melody. From there, the piano seems to take a backseat, and the guitars get picked up. The first half of the album feels a bit more rock oriented, and makes for a few memorable songs including "Rococo" and "City with No Children".
The real magic happens in the second half of the album, beginning with "Half Light II(No Celebration)" one of the couple of two part songs on the large 16 track album. The bass beats kick in, and it's hard not to feel transported to another time. The sad melody of "Suburban War" tells a story of changing cliques as a kid (Now, the music divides us into tribes/ You grew your hair so I grew mine). "We Used To Wait" begs to relive the days where life moved slower. But the most moving part of the album happen in the last two true songs of the album. "Sprawl I(Flatland)" is slow and methodical, which only makes for a more dramatic finale on "Sprawl II(Mountains Beyond Mountains) where Chassagne takes lead and sings along to a synthesized background that's nothing short of marvelous.
The last song on the album "The Suburbs (Continued)" is simply a quick blurb and a tune reminiscent of the opening song except slower and sadder, where Butler seems to sum up a strong emotion on the album with the lines "If I could have it back/ All the time that we wasted/ I'd only waste it again."
The Suburbs really feels like a journey listening to it. Arcade Fire's always done a good job of tackling both strong lyrics and catchy music, but this time it feels like they've done something that's absolutely remarkable. And from this point, it only seems like they can improve from here.