Boomkat Product Review:
Since the release of their sophomore album, Neon Bible, Arcade Fire have well and truly ascended to the level of elite stadium rock bands, but unlike the Coldplays and U2s of this world, the Montreal septet have managed to retain the credibility earned by their early output. With this typically ambitious third long-player, the band have delivered a concept album that focusses on suburban life and growing up in a suburban environment. There are various references to rites of passage, with driving and escape remaining recurrent themes, as previously visited on the Springsteen-indebted numbers of Neon Bible. The album opens with: "In the suburbs I, I learned to drive/And you told me we'd never survive/Grab your mother's keys we're leaving" and persists with this during 'Suburban War', virtually paraphrasing The Smiths' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' in its introductory gambit: "Let's go for a drive/See the town tonight/There's nothing to do but I don't mind when I'm with you". Musically, The Suburbs really doesn't back down too much from the unrepentant grandeur of Neon Bible, though one of the most instantly memorable tracks here, 'Modern Man', is a little more understated than that. It's in some ways evocative of a weird and angular Traveling Wilburys song, though once again, the shadow of Springsteen looms large over the piece. Scaling the same sort of epic heights as the Neon Bible-closing rendition of 'No Cars Go', 'Empty Room' - another early standout - sounds just immense. The track introduces itself with a flurry of Owen Pallett-arranged violins, quickly revealing something truly vast, contrasting a brash chugging urgency with loitering arcs of MBV-influenced lead guitars and great duetting from Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. When in a recent interview the band cited a combination of Neil Young and Depeche Mode influencing the album, it seemed unlikely that it would be within the same song, yet 'Half Light II (No Celebration)' does sort of sound like a direct cross-pollination of the two, borrowing its songwriting style from the former whilst deploying the arena-sized electronics of the latter. This marks one of the more awkward moments on the playlist, yet through the band's sheer unflappable conviction the piece works. The length of this record is worth mentioning: it's long. Clocking in at around an hour, by contemporary standards The Suburbs is tantamount to a double-album, but this is probably a welcome thing given how naturally each track seems to thread into the next. It's actually pretty heartening to hear a straight-up stadium rock record that's as righteously pomped-up as this - despite the scale, it still feels intelligent and in-depth, and while it's hardly something that warrants comparison with OK Computer as a recent BBC review suggested, The Suburbs is a genuine 'event' album, and is undoubtedly a thing of some substance. In a year when loner bedroom recording projects and lo-fi electronic artists have often provided the most vital releases, it's entirely welcome that something this big, and in some senses, this old-fashioned, can still offer insight and relevance.