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Stuck in the Suburbs – Arcade Fire


For a long time I resisted the overwhelming popularity surrounding Arcade Fire.  Sure I liked some songs but I wasn’t much into the epic proportions and sweeping sounds of their music.  There was never any connection that I felt to their methods of grandiose instruments and lengthy songs, and so many people seemed to like them that I thought I never would. Their obsessive fans and the ubiquitous radio play made me weary. I assumed liking them was just the trendy thing to do and I’m really not one to follow trends.  So I disregarded their rise to popularity as disingenuous and claimed to all the many admirers of AF that I knew that … I just wasn’t feeling it.

But then one day I heard the track entitled, The Suburbs and I paused to listen.  This sounded different, reflective and mature.  That line “sometimes I can’t believe it I’m moving past the feeling…” really caught my attention and suddenly I was feeling it. I felt like I was grappling with maturing faster than I preferred, while losing my idealistic, carefree nature at the same time.  Real life brought on anxiety and doubt regarding questions like what am I doing with my life? Am I becoming the person I want to be? and whether or not all of this even means anything at all?  So to hear a song in which Win Butler reflects on his suburban life and subsequent aging made me think, this is an album I have to listen to.

Butler confronts many of these concerns on The Suburbs and I just had to own it so I could analyze every song.  I wanted to pour over the lyrics and decipher each meaning and relate it to my own life.  But I was so excited when I got it that I rushed right through the impressive play list of 16 tracks.  Not all complete songs, this album consists of interludes and accompanying song halves to their counterparts, Half-light I and II, Sprawl I and II.  At first I only listened to what grabbed my attention, mostly consisting of the first half of the album and complained to my friend Ana that it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. She wisely advised me to listen more and that only then would it grow on me.  She was right, as I listened on my Ipod during leisurely walks and while bike-riding was I able to grasp the truth in the lyrics and really feel the music.  This is not an album to be raced through and forgotten. This is a concept album about aging and questioning whether or not all your dreams were lost and your youth was wasted along the way.  There is a quiet desperation and disappointment amongst the lyrics. A lot of wondering, questioning and yearning for more.

Ready to Start begins by claiming “businessmen drink my blood,” I interpret this as being stuck in a meaningless dead end job and letting go of it all and beginning again.  Butler is fantasizing about making some changes and being ready to start his life the way he wants to live it.  In the uptempo, Modern Man Butler sings, “like a record that’s skipping I’m a modern man, makes me feel like something don’t feel right…When you’re older you will understand why you don’t feel right, why you cant sleep at night.”  An empty existence discussed throughout this song allows Butler to vent his frustrations about becoming the typical robotic man. I repeatedly listened to the soaring instruments on the triumphant tune, Rococo and even started banging my head the littlest bit as I listened to Win Butler patronizingly condemn all the hipsters who use “great big words that they don’t understand.”  You know the kind, the people who seem more intent on following trends than actually learning about things that actually matter.  The ones preoccupied with fabricating a persona of who they wish they were instead of revealing who they really are. I was not quite aware of Regine Chassagne’s vocals until I heard her singing in Empty Room, a chaotic fast-paced number.   “When I’m by myself I can be myself in an empty room” her voice lends some wistfulness and hope to the record instead of the tired disillusionment and apathy Butler offers.  His morose stance on all the wasted hours and loss of old friends makes this album easy for a young adult to relate to as they grow older and their circle of friends diminish, but Regine’s voice reminds us that’s life and it’s probably better that way.  Sometimes you just no longer have feelings for those you once loved, once you’re grown up and know them better. We used to Wait is introduced with staccato minor-key piano chords that conjure up feelings of impatience and anxiety. I loved the concept behind the track as soon as I heard it playing on the radio. “We used to wait for letters to arrive, it’s stranger still how something so small can keep you alive.” I couldn’t believe I had been able to resist the lure of their music for so long, when their lyrical content was so insightful.  This track examines the modern compulsion to have everything immediately and the loss of patience, for waiting for something more meaningful, tangible.  Like a love letter.  The lyrics on The Suburbs are meaningful and contemplative, honest and real, unlike the majority of music I listen to that revolves around poetic heartache and exaggerated emotions. Suburban War has a distinctly melancholic sound, lamenting the divide that inevitably occurs as friends grow up and live in different cities that might as well be distant stars.  The roll of drums emphasize “All my old friends they don’t know me now.” Frustration and regret are strong emotions in Wasted Hours and The Sprawl.   The Suburbs plays out like a collection of meditations on fleeting youth and conformity to adult expectations and pigeonholes.

As a Montreal based band, The Arcade Fire have done quite a lot to raise Canadian musicians credibility.  Their collection of Grammy and Juno awards are proof that they possess something unique and worth listening to.  You may not fall in love with their sound all at once.  Not everybody can.  But given sufficient time and patience the music will seep into your soul and you will find points with which you identify.  AF recognizes that as we grow older we are forced to come to terms that we may not have become the people we had envisioned we would.  Life is harder than what we had expected as adolescents and righteousness can not pay the interest on the debt that we have accumulated, as Win so sweetly reminds us.

You have to digest something as heavy as Arcade Fire, it’s not just mindless feel-good crap. It is intelligent and honest about life. Not many bands intertwine issues of desolation and defiance, purpose in life and foreboding feelings that only surface late at night within their music, but Arcade Fire has done exactly that with honesty and wit while creating a philosophical and memorable album, open to interpretation that makes for easy listening every time.

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