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"With my old friends I can remember when
You cut your hair, I never saw you again
Now the cities we live in could be distant stars
And I search for you in every passing car "
I've listened to The Suburbs thrice and I still don't feel I have a handle of it. What I can say is that the Arcade Fire have cemented themselves as one of the greatest bands of all-time. This album sounds nothing like their first two, tangentially it sounds like and is thematically related to their debut EP (though, the closest Arcade Fire has come to the sound on The Suburbs was on Antichrist Television Blues) and yet doesn't feel like a re-invention; this is a natural progression.
What the Arcade Fire has done is create their most dense, challenging album to date. Listening to their early unreleased recordings and their EP you can definately notice something missing from the AF. However, with Funeral the music felt like it had to be made, that it wasn't music for the sake of music, but the only expression of feelings needing immediate escape. This album doesn't seem to have that immediacy at first, until you realize that its creating the very feeling that its trying to explain, work out, and escape from. It too is a necessary expression of desperation, one that's every bit as complex and difficult to explain as this album.
Butler's lyrics are less esoteric than they have been, yet he weaves his most cohesive and sprawling (like the Suburbs) set of songs that deal with the spiritual malaise of the suburbs (both as a construct and an idea) as seen by someone in their late 20's or early 30's. I've always seen Butler as an expressionist, and this album is further evidence to support that; the songs musically recall the subject matter of wasted and circular days, lost time, and frustration at being unable to escape from middle-class complacency: where the magical world of childhood is open now to a world of limited possibilities and deceptively Sisyphus-ian tasks such as mowing the lawn, 9-5 jobs, or taking out the garbage (since the Talking Heads are always used in conversations about Arcade Fire, and I guess one could view Once in a Lifetime.
as a thematically predating Synecdoche).
In my dream I was almost there
Then they pulled me aside and said you’re going nowhere
They say we are the chosen few
But we waste it
And that’s why we’re still waiting
On a number from the modern man
Maybe when you’re older you will understand
Why you don’t feel right
Why you can’t sleep at night now
This is also a heavily intertextual album to their previous two, both musically and lyrically, and an album that has motifs running through-out itself. However, the songs are so organically woven in they don't call attention to themselves. There is a restrained power on this album that displays a high level of musical maturity.
Funeral began with a retelling of the Garden of Eden story. This album reads like the apocryphal stories of Adam and Eve after the garden trying in vain to return, only to find struggle, desolation, in repeating cycles. It's the Neighborhood of Funeral revisited after the corruption of the world in Neon Bible.
And the power’s out in the heart of man,
take it from your heart put in your hand.
And there’s something wrong in the heart of man,
you take it from your heart and put it in your hand!
Every spark of friendship and love
will die without a home
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness. Someone, please cut the lights!
The trajectory of the album, from routine acceptance to a final question/near plea of achieving transcendence, is subtle; while many writers are comparing this album to Springsteen, the album really finds a cousin in The Who's Quadrophenia in the way both albums use themes and motifs as characterizations, then breaks them down to mask the yearning or angst below the facades. Or in Husker Du's Zen Arcade where the music is used to initially obscure then highlight, then obscure again a search for meaning. It makes for an enthralling listen; an album ready to be discovered again and again. And like those albums an absolute classic.