Friday, 13 August 2010

If the children don't grow old

There's a lot of pressure on Arcade Fire. In 2004 they released their first album, Funeral, which turned out to be quite good. It sounded fresh and old at the same time, a bit epic and a bit comforting. Behind convoluted song titles like 'Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)' and 'Rebellion (Lies)' are seemingly simple songs of positivity and energy that are unashamedly sincere. They work as pop songs but they never sound commercial, there's a rawness to the sound that stops them from being too easy to listen to. It was an album of highlights that mostly seemed to follow on from each other, the highlightiest highlight being 'Wake Up'. A song that, like most of the album, really is difficult to describe. It seems so obvious when you hear it but isn't easy to put into words. The problem with all this goodness is that, despite being called things like a 'modern classic', it was only their first album. Where does a band go from there? Well, they, um, release their second album. Neon Bible is a bit darker, and the highlights are there, but not as many and not as high. It's an impressive album, perhaps unfairly overshadowed by what came before.

Now they've released The Suburbs, which nicely goes back to the old theme of childhood memories. The difference here being that it sounds a lot more relaxed. There aren't any obvious highlights, it just goes from one pretty good song to the next pretty good song. What it lacks in 'epic' it makes up for in quiet confidence. It almost sounds like it's from a different time, like it should only be available as a record. It's more obviously influenced by classic American rock and isn't trying so hard to impress you. If I did have a complaint - which I, er, do - it's that some songs seem too focused on the lyrics. Which is a strange thing to say when they're as good as this - all nostalgic and suburban - but, to be honest, I'm not really interested. It's all about the music for me. Wasn't Funeral at its best when they were just singing sounds? The music was always above the words, and some heights can only be reached without them. Getting too attached to the words can leave a few songs featureless. That's just a little grumble though. On the whole, after listening to The Suburbs, you're just more likely to say 'that was nice' than be too out of breath to say anything.

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