I figured I'd do a monthly 'what I'm listening to' kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it's my blog! So there!
That might be the best way to describe the Arcade Fire and their new release, the Suburbs.
Most, if not all, the Montreal based septet are multi-instrumentalists and take some part in the writing of each song, though Win Butler does most of the writing/heavy lifting. But Arcade Fire is creative in ways of arrangements and mixing instruments like no other band.
The Suburbs is longer than their first two disks - over an hour of music. It is seemingly more of a combination of their debut Funeral and its follow-up Neon Bible than it is a departure. The jury is still out (with me) as if it is better than Neon Bible, let alone what I would consider the best disk of 2010.
Though not billed as a "concept album", one might take it that way if so chosen.
I can't help thinking that some of the disk is out of sequence if this were a concept disk. The excellent "Wasted Hours" would be right at the front of the playlist ("first they built the roads; then they built the town"). Then the disk could have kicked into "Ready to Start" - and it does kick.
With "Ready to Start", sometimes it seems this is the song with most energy, passion and sincerity. ("if I was yours, but I'm not" or "I would rather be alone; than pretend I feel alright", but then conversely Butler sings: "but to bow down to them anyway; is better than to be alone".) Yes, life is the suburbs is no picnic.
That song really is the killer track on this disk. I have played it dozens of times and am really into it. But I think AF does a great job on "Rocco", "Modern Man" (which totally has a Robert Palmer, "Mary & Johnny vibe in the rhythm section), "City with No Children", "Suburban War" and "We Used to Wait". The latter song takes a while to kind of get going. Hell, the first half of it is two piano keys, but I'm really digging it.
I also like both "Sprawl I (Flatlands)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)". Ditto with "Half Light" I and II.
I'll be honest, I was not much of a fan of Régine Chassagne. But for her work on this disk, I'm at least enjoying: "Sprawl II" works, as does "Empty Room" "Half Light" Maybe on the latter tracks (I and II), she does more singing with Butler. Her songs here are somewhat reminiscent of "In the Backseat" from Funeral. I didn't like anything she did on Neon Bible.
I want to like the title tracks more. I like the lyrics and the melody enough, but the Joplin-esque piano drives me to distraction. The reprise is somewhat throwaway, yet necessary almost to end the disk.
"Month of May" starts out incredibly strong, until vocals are put into the mix. I was so excited when it started, but it is hard to sit through for me. But for all their mania, there are a number of slower songs, which while they existed on other disks, they did not seem as sparse.
Yes, there is a lot going on with the Suburbs, but the same can be said for all their disks. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I saw their live-stream Madison Square Garden set and much of this works better live than on album.
My current conclusion (always subject to change with further listenings), is that it's a very good disk, but right now, not great. Neon Bible struck me more from the first listen and three years later has held me there. We'll see if the Suburbs does the same thing.