Arcade Fire, The Suburbs [2010]

Posted by Greg , Monday, August 23, 2010 10:13 PM

The characters in Arcade Fire's third album are suffocating.  The Suburbs describes the disappointment of growing up in a modern, middle class life, forced to focus more on punching a clock than being alive.  Much of the imagery is viewed through the driver's seat of a car, winding through well-traveled streets in search of lost youth, meaning, purpose...anything more than the stifling monotony of everyday existence.  The album is pervaded by a serene melancholy, a yearning for the joy of youth mixed with a recognition that we can never go back to it.

Lyrically, the album is remarkably cohesive, with themes (and even particular phrases) introduced in the opening tracks recurring later in the album.  The title tracks touches on many of the topics explored later in greater depth, acting almost as a table of contents for the rest of the album.  This is a level of discipline that is largely absent from the works of Arcade Fire's peers.

Not all themes on the album are confined solely to the suburban experience.  In "Deep Blue," lead singer Win Butler expresses apprehension about the dehumanizing aspects of modernity.  Through a reference to the defeat of chess champion Garry Kasparov by the computer Deep Blue in 1996, the song ponders the impending uselessness of humanity in the face of increasingly sophisticated technology.  Butler doesn't let us forget, though, that this is something we've brought upon ourselves, by our increasing preoccupation with technology that ultimately alienates us from the world and each other:
Hey, put the cellphone down for a while.
In the night there is something wild.
Can you hear it breathing?
And hey, put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it's leaving me.
This loss of feeling is another recurring theme on The Suburbs, first appearing the opening title track ("I can't believe it, I'm moving past the feeling").  Butler wishes for a child so that he can "hold her hand, and her show some beauty, before this damage is done"; or, in other words, before adulthood steals it all away from him.  In "Ready to Start," he'd "rather be alone, than pretend I feel all right."  And in "Modern Man," he "feel[s] I'm losing the feeling."

Still, there are places when "the feeling" hasn't entirely been stamped out, namely in the darkness of sleep (as in Sprawl II: "but late at night the feelings swim to the surface").  In Half Light, "the night tears us loose, and in the half light we're free."  And even though Butler claims to have moved past the feeling, he admits, "In my dreams we're still screaming."

It's a dark sentiment, but perhaps screaming is better than feeling nothing at all.

The Suburbs:

Ready to Start:

Deep Blue:

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