Top positive review
Very good album, but - for me - not their best work
on 27 January 2017
Having loved Arcade Fire's debut album, Funeral, and having very much enjoyed their second album, The Neon Bible, I eagerly pre-ordered their third release, The Suburbs, and was really looking forward to hearing it. Perhaps that high expectation had an impact on my opinion of Arcade Fire's third long player, but when I first listened to the album back in 2010, I wasn't overly impressed. I quite liked it and there were a couple of songs I could tell were very good, but compared with their last two album and, especially, Funeral, my initial impression of The Suburbs was that it was a little bit underwhelming. This probably accounts for the fact that I haven't really listened to it much since its release, other than, occasionally, listening to one or two tracks that I ripped from the CD onto my iPod. I've had a quick read of professional and peer reviews and many of them seem to be highly complimentary, so I decided to listen to The Suburbs a few times, in its entirety, before committing my thoughts to print. I'm very glad that I did, because I appreciate it a whole lot more now than I did seven years ago, but it has also confirmed a few things I felt about it back in 2010 as well.
The whole album is loosely based around the Butler brothers growing up in a suburb of Houston, Texas, and was described as a “letter from the suburbs”, rather than a commentary about or love letter to where they grew up, and it starts off excellently. The Suburbs, a folky, jaunty piece with a Grant Lee Buffalo feel, is an instantly enjoyable song with some interesting, relatable lyrics and Ready To Start has a muscular rock bounce to it. The fast paced Empty Room, with its atmospheric keyboards, guitars and strings, has echoes of Funeral, but, despite sounding rather wonderful, never quite manages to grasp that elusive creative magic. There are quite a few other highlights; Half Light I is a very pretty song indeed, Suburban War begins with a gentle guitar arpeggio and builds to a thunderous conclusion and Deep Blue, with its chiming piano and excellent lyrics, is one of the very best songs on the whole album. At just over an hour long and with sixteen tracks, I can't help but wonder if The Suburbs may have made a much better album had it been trimmed down a little; there are certainly at least a couple of songs I could live without.
I believe the initial reservations I had in 2010 about The Suburbs are lasting ones. The songs are often far more conventional, far less dramatic than Funeral or Neon Bible and I felt, at the time, that Arcade Fire had embraced a more mainstream direction. I don't think I was mistaken at the time and, although I know and appreciate The Suburbs a lot more now, the primary reason why this album, as good as it is, hasn't fully captured my heart in the way their earlier work did is because it simply doesn't have the same magical feel. I often thought, as I was listening to the tracks, if this had have been on Funeral, how would it have fared alongside those wonderfully written and arranged songs? Despite this being a good, well-written album which is performed with a great deal of heart, I honestly don't think that the vast majority of these songs can hold a candle to their first release which, for me, is still their greatest moment. The Suburbs was the record that made me fall a little bit out of love with Arcade Fire and, despite appreciating it more now, in honesty, I can still hear why. It's a good album, very good in parts, but, for me, falls very much short of greatness.