Since the 2004 release of their transcendent debut album, “Funeral,” Arcade Fire has risen to become one of indie rock’s most respected and attention-grabbing acts. Fronted by the husband and wife duo, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the Montreal-based group has a reputation for creating huge-sounding compositions that have the honesty and originality that popular music so often lacks. Despite a sophomore effort (“Neon Bible,” 2007) that some critics viewed as overstated and lacking the nostalgic charm that their first album produced, Arcade Fire returns with their third release, “The Suburbs.”
One of the most rudimentary and attractive things about Arcade Fire is their devotion to creating albums that flow from start to finish. At an impressive 16 tracks, “The Suburbs” packs in all the evocative power of their past releases – perhaps even more so. The album starts strong with the catchy title track, “The Suburbs,” which shapes the aesthetics for the rest of the album. The tone for most of the songs is somewhat melancholy, but ultimately uplifting and hopeful. Tracks like “Ready to Start” adhere to a simpler rock song structure, while “Rococo” soars on clever string arrangements. Where Arcade Fire may have been overzealous on “Neon Bible,” they sound matured and very much in control of their compositions.
Despite Arcade Fire’s popularity, this is not a hugely accessible group of songs. There is not a lot of variation among them or any standouts as far as singles are concerned. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” has more of an electro-pop sound to it, which works well, but most of the album’s songs produce a similar sound. The most rewarding aspects are subsurface, in the message that Butler’s lyrics deliver. For those of us who spent childhoods and adolescent years in the suburbs, some familiar feelings are stirred up. “The Suburbs” doesn’t make attacks on suburban life; it questions it and tries to make sense of how it shapes its youth.
Fans of previous work won’t be disappointed. For those who haven’t given them a listen before, let the album grow on you. There is a huge amount of substance in their music and their songwriting abilities have been honed to near perfection.
In addition to being top-notch musicians, Arcade Fire pledged to match public donations up to a million dollars in the Haiti relief effort this year. Musicians who take their art seriously and give back to their fans are surprisingly hard to find.
If there is a lesson to be learned from “The Suburbs,” it’s that modern disillusionment can be taxing, but take comfort in knowing we’re all in this life together.