I mentioned in my Track Ones post that I wasn't overly keen on Arcade Fire's third album, and sadly, it's not just because they used a song called Ready to Start as track two.
There was a time when I was absolutely besotted with AF. Funeral was nigh-on flawless, and while Neon Bible did have a couple of songs that I didn't much care for (not least its dull lead single), these iffy patches were easily overshadowed by the good bits. I spent hours learning to play Intervention on my dodgy Casio keyboard, and (Antichrist Television Blues) is my second most listened-to song of all time*, although I'm still not sure what those brackets are doing in the title.
At the start of 2010, Arcade Fire could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. Their still-slender songbook - at that point comprising just two albums and an EP - had already given me some of the best songs I'd ever heard, and their forthcoming third LP would surely provide several more. Right?
Well, in fairness, there are some absolutely stellar songs on The Suburbs. Empty Room is my personal favourite, and the two that come after it (City with No Children and Half Light I) are pretty special too. In fact, Empty Room/CwNC/Half Light I/Half Light II could have been the best four-track EP ever burned onto a CD, especially given how nicely they all flow together.
But unlike Neon Bible, which had three corkers for every mild let down, the 15-minute goldmine that constitutes the second quarter of The Suburbs is (in my opinion) pretty much the only part that doesn't disappoint. The other 12 tracks aren't exactly bad, but they certainly don't hit that sweet spot onto which Funeral and Neon Bible splattered their guts.
So here, in handy bullet-point form, are some of the things that spoil The Suburbs for me:
- Stupid StartsI realise I'm starting to seem over-obsessed with this, but seriously - Ready to Start and The Suburbs need to be the other way around. The title track is a plodding, humdrum excuse for an opening salvo - not unlike Black Mirror from Neon Bible - and the tense, edgy sound of Ready to Start would have made a far better first impression. Mind you, RtS isn't perfect either, and you could snip off the last minute or so without losing anything important.
- Modern ManIt could have been a solid track, this, but they did it in some odd time signature just for the sake of being quirky and, well, I reckon the extra beat kills it:
- Month of May
Before I'd heard this album, somebody told me that Month of May was the new (Antichrist Television Blues). It's not. Admittedly, the chugging, angry-sounding guitars are pretty cool, but the songwriting is just naff. Lyrics like 'Month of May, it's a violent thing' and 'I know it's heavy/I know it ain't light' sound like they were made up on the spot.
- The Big Moments Aren't That BigOkay, so Arcade Fire are great at these big, show-stopping numbers where they throw everything they've got at it and make everyone's hearts explode and whatever. Funeral had Wake Up, Neon Bible had Intervention...but what does The Suburbs have? I've seen both Sprawl II and We Used to Wait described as this album's highlights, but neither one grabs me by the internal organs in anything like the same way as their older stuff (or indeed Empty Room, the album's true highlight). Sprawl II is good fun, I guess, but it's too content to just stay on one level for five and a half minutes instead of building to anything. WUtW seems like it's going to be utterly amazing - the first verse sounds nice and dramatic - but again, it doesn't go anywhere. The initial tension doesn't get the payoff it deserves, and the rest of the song just sort of floats around while Win Butler complains that nobody writes letters any more. Like the album at large, it could have been a lot better than it is.
Nice to get all of that off my chest. I don't hate The Suburbs, and the overall theme - nostalgic longing for the simplicity of childhood - is pretty well-executed. But like I said, the good tracks - the really stunning, Arcade Fire-quality tracks - could be contained on an EP, along with maybe Rococo as a stand-alone single. Wasted Hours can be the B-side.
*My number one most-played track is Nights of the Living Dead by Tilly and the Wall. Here it is, in case you haven't come across it before: