Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, isn’t officially out until August 3, 2010, but a handful of early reviews have already trickled in, and if they’re any indication, than The Suburbs is bound to be on many “best of” lists come year’s end. But then again, that’s not exactly surprising, is it?
“I need the darkness / can you please cut the lights?” Lines like this might seem trite, or at least insincere, coming from a band that’s enjoyed worldwide commercial success, that’s been on general public display for some five years plus. But it’s important to remember that Arcade Fire’s journey from underground obscurity to chart-topping acclaim has been at a trajectory decidedly different to many a music industry heavyweight, more happy accident than orchestrated intent. Emerging from a previously unexplored beyond, their story has always been theirs alone to tell. And The Suburbs is their most thrillingly engrossing chapter yet; a complex, captivating work that, several cycles down the line, retains the magic and mystery of that first tentative encounter. You could call it their OK Computer. But it’s arguably better than that.
When you call your first album Funeral, you set the bar high in terms of your maturity level. How can any young band evolve toward that full-grown third album after starting out with a meditation on death and grief? It’s no problem for Arcade Fire — these Montreal indie rockers are not shy about gunning for a solemn, grandiose, three-hankie anthem every time out. The best song on their last disc, “No Cars Go,” was a dead ringer for Neil Diamond’s flag-waving classic “America,” which gives a sense of the gargantuan scale of their anthemizing. On their fantastic third album, The Suburbs, they aim higher than ever, with Roman numerals and parentheses in the song titles. In their dictionary, “suburbs” is nowhere near “subtlety.” But that just adds to the emotional wallop.
Radiant with apocalyptic tension and grasping to sustain real bonds, The Suburbs extends hungrily outward, recalling the dystopic miasma of William Gibson’s sci-fi novels and Sonic Youth’s guitar odysseys. Desperate to elude its own corrosive dread, it keeps moving, asking, looking, and making the promise that hope isn’t just another spiritual cul-de-sac.