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Cork, Ireland
An Irish based alternative music blog. Music news, gigs, live reviews, album reviews... You'll find them here. If you want anything featured or removed, please shout. I hope you'll discover something new to love on this little experiment of mine. Currently editing the Music Section of the UCC Express and contributing to Motley magazine on campus, as well as writing for PopCultureMonster and 4FortyFour. Always looking for new projects so please get in touch if interested. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Album Review: Arcade Fire "The Suburbs"

At last. It's been a long time coming but The Suburbs has finally landed...

It runs at over an hour - far and away the longest album by Arcade Fire, and has some rather large shoes to fill. Funeral has become a footnote in musical history, and despite some lukewarm feelings (Personally I like it, but I can get why some don't) toward Neon Bible the Canadians are still regarded by many to be floating around the pinnacle of modern alternative music.

We were treated to four tracks already: the fantastic trio of Ready to Wait, We Used To Start and The Suburbs, and the frankly poor Queens of the Stone Age/punk attempt Month of May. Lyrically and sonically, the latter falls flat and even in the context of the album it doesn't improve. Those lucky enough to catch the band at Oxegen were also given a preview of two of the highlights of the album: Rococo and Modern Man. The former is a subdued, slow burning song that bursts to life half way through, while the latter is as close to the expansive sound we got so used to on the band's debut.

Empty Room shares the feelings of Modern Man: it would slide in effortlessly alongside anything from Funeral, while it is also the first time we encounter the magnificent Mrs. Regine Chassagne. Wife of frontman Win Butler, Regine is unfortunately only let lose on two tracks - a genuine failing on the album. Anyone familiar with the band's back catalogue can pinpoint a number of classics where Chassagne is in total control. As the album meanders on, particularly in the second half, some female input is urgently required. When she finally does return, it is on the penultimate track: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) which is the real standout number from the album.

With 16 tracks, it was always going to be difficult to have 100% success. I don't want to dwell too long on the negative as this is a really wonderful album, but certain tracks just feel a little unnecessary. Month of May, as I mentioned earlier, City With No Children, Half Light I, the reprise of the Suburbs at the end of the album... One or two others could be added in here. Cut them from the record and they wont be missed. In fact, they would improve the album as a whole - it could easily have come in at 45-50 minutes and been better off. Brevity over longevity...

However, as I said, there is a lot to enjoy here. I suspect that the album may grow on me in the same manner as Neon Bible in 2007. The album feels to me to be a blend of the first two. We find a number of rapid, expansive tracks that sound like Funeral (Ready to Start, We Used To Wait, Empty Room, the Suburbs), while there are also a number of the subdued, lo-fi tracks that worked so well on the follow up (Wasted Hours, Rococo)

Ultimately the Suburbs is not the glittering spectacle it could have been. It is not of the standard of Funeral (though if they ever manage to top that I'll be stunned), though it is what many would call a "return to form" after Neon Bible. It is, certainly, more accessible than the sophomore record which was rather morose in parts, though an overall rewarding work. Aside from a meandering mid section, the album is strong overall. There are some spectacular tracks here and, in reality, it is simply a joy to hear the first new work from the Canadians since Lenin appeared on the Dark Was The Night compilation last year.

Ambitious and largely successful. I'm already excited to see what they do next.

Arcade Fire The Suburbs: 8.0/10. Some wonderful tracks, though a little slow in the middle. At 16 tracks, it is too long, though a number of songs here are as good as anything they've ever put out. Better than Neon Bible.

Unmissable Tracks: Rococo, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Modern Man, We Used To Wait, Ready To Start.

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