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Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
(Merge Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 17, 2010
Arcade Fire

Review by Tony Bonyata

On Arcade Fire's third studio effort the Montreal-based indie-rock collective have foregone their world travels and big city jet-setting to get back to their suburban roots, inspired by bandmemeber's Win and William Butler's youth in the outskirts of Houston, TX.

Where their last album Neon Bible took time to digest to fully appreciate it's underlying beauty, The Suburbs is more of a direct, return-to-form to their stunning 2004 debut Funeral. Perhaps not so much musically, as the band downplays some of their earlier baroque chamber-pop in favor of '80s synth-rock stylings, but rather in grand concepts and immediacy in their songcraft.

Frontman Win admitted in a recent interview with the BBC that this album is their own mix of Neil Young and Depeche Mode. And while it never gets as folky (or as grungy, for that matter) as Young, or as bogged down in cheesy synths as D.M., there are still, nonetheless, traces of both present. Fans of the band's earlier material needn't worry about a drastic sea-change in their sound, as their signature soaring anthems are everpresent ("Empty Room" and "Suburban War"), as are their jittery rockers ("Month of May" and "Ready to Start").

But it's not until the band takes some chances by moving into new terrain that the album really begins takes flight. The lovely indie pop of both "Modern Man" and the sturdy "City With No Children" are both propelled by infectious rubbery guitar-lines and impassioned vocals, while the '80s influenced number "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," featuring co-founder and Win's wife Régine Chassagne on lead vocals, turns out to be the album's real treat as it mixes the music of Kate Bush with the Tom Tom Club, yet surprisingly never sounds dated or nostalgic.

Is The Suburbs Arcade Fire's masterpiece? Perhaps, although many would argue that Funeral can't be bettered. But considering that this young band continues to produce such remarkable music - one record after another, I suspect their true masterwork is still ahead of them. And that's a good thing for us here in the 'burbs and the big cities.

Related articles:

The Arcade Fire (Lollapalooza 2010) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - August 2010
The Arcade Fire - Concert review - Chicago, IL - May 2007
The Arcade Fire (Lollapalooza 2005) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - July 2005
The Arcade Fire - Funeral - Album review

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