I loved Arcade Fire’s 2007 album, “Neon Bible,” so much so that it ended up in the Top Ten of my Top 25 Albums of the Decade list. The highlights of that album were many and varied, ranging from the noir feel of “Keep the Car Running” and the spine-tingling drama of “Intervention” to the passion of “No Cars Go” and “My Body Is A Cage.”
The band’s new album, “The Suburbs,” doesn’t feel anything like its predecessor. Though easily recognizable as Arcade Fire, it doesn’t sound much like its predecessor either. And before you jump to conclusions about the meaning of those statements, let me come right out and say that at this very moment, I’d peg “The Suburbs” as the first classic album of this new decade.
The first time I put the album on and listened to the opening (title track), my immediate thought was “oh oh, this sounds a little cheesy.” But before the song was half over, I was entranced. While a much more subtle approach than a song like “Intervention,” the momentum builds throughout, and by the end you’ve reached a similar destination, if by a very different route. The opener blends neatly into “Ready to Start,” a flat-out rocker that carries with it the sense of excitement that you feel in all classic rock songs. Closing out an incredible opening trio of songs is “Modern Man,” and by its end, you know that you’re in pretty heady territory.
What distinguishes “The Suburbs” from its immediate predecessor is the sound. On the new album, the sound is lighter and airier, but this time around you really feel like you’re listening to a band. The album has an embarrassment of riches among its 16 tracks; flat out rockers like “Empty Room” and “Month of May” will have you jumping around the room wishing you could see them performed live in concert, while mid-tempo meditations like “City With No Children,” and slower songs like “Half Light (I)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” leave you wishing that the lyric sheet was a little more comprehensible. And finally, an epic song like "Suburban War" just leaves you marveling at what is possible when a great band is at the peak of its powers.
“The Suburbs” is Arcade Fire’s first #1 album, and they’ve just recently sold out Madison Square Garden, so it appears that they’ve made the big leap from indie stardom to becoming a household name on the music scene. They deserve it, and the album is just more evidence that they’re going to be at or near the top for a long time.