Arcade Fire's Funeral was one of the essential indie rock albums of the 00s; the sort of (sub)cultural event that resonated with a lot of people, while those who found it overblown or simply didn't like it still couldn't deny its popularity and acclaim. There's something dramatic and triumphant about the album, its emotional openness and intensity. I once was moved to describe it to someone as an album where it sounds like every song is in a fight for its very life. Personally, though, I prefer Neon Bible. It's dark, troubled, and borderline bitter, but the songs are so damn good that it's easy to miss what they're about. Anyway, Arcade Fire's first two albums may come off as dense and difficult when you're reading about them, but the expert song craft ensures you take to their music right away.
Ironically, then, I've been struggling with The Suburbs, which is supposed to be their almost-whimsical pop album. It took me about three listens before I was sure I liked the album, which is strange since their first two are much heavier and darker in terms of subject matter and music. My main issue with this album is that it's too long, and this is something compounded by a handful of weak tracks. But yes, I enjoy this album. The Suburbs starts off in fine fashion with the jaunty bounce of the 70s AOR style title track, easily the mellowest and lightest start to any of their albums. Tracks like 'Month Of May' and 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' even demonstrate some musical growth, with the former a chugging rocker and the latter making the best use of Regine Chassagne's vocals on the album, setting them to a throbbing electro-pop backing which at first seems out of place with this band but quickly wins you over. When Arcade Fire are just sounding like themselves, as on 'Ready To Start and 'We Used To Wait', they still have all the power and energy that they displayed on their first two albums. I'd even go so far as to say that those two songs easily match any of the band's best.
Keep in mind that those albums were a full 15 minutes shorter than The Suburbs. Their greatness would be dulled by three or four more songs, “too much of a good thing” being this album's chief failing. I'm a firm believer in the “less is more” school, since I'd rather pay $15 for an excellent 35 minute album than a bloated, half great 70 minute one. Certainly if it was 70 minutes of fully great it would be another matter, but most of the times I've listened to The Suburbs I get tired of it about halfway through. Again, none of the songs are outright bad, but this album simply lacks the coherency and consistency that made the first two Arcade Fire albums near-perfect. Had they trimmed a few of these tracks, they could have had a totally great album and an EP's worth of pretty good material. For instance, 'Empty Room' seems unfinished, overwhelmed as it is by overloud guitars and errant white noise, while both parts of 'Half Light' could have been an excellent anchor to an EP instead of cluttering up the middle of the album. In many ways The Suburbs reminds me of that mid 90s to early 00s era when bands released albums that sprawled to hour plus lengths simply because CDs could handle more playtime than records. Even Bob Dylan succumbed to this problem: his 1997 single CD album Time Out Of Mind is actually longer than his 1966 double record album Blonde On Blonde!
While clearly the product of the same band, Arcade Fire, much like Wolf Parade, have managed to release three albums that are quite different from each other, tonally and music-wise. There doesn't seem to be a general consensus about any of their albums, either, at least according to the people I talk to.The Suburbs may only be a silver medal winner to me , but I'm sure many people will love it and either see past its flaws or not see them at all.