When The Suburbs came out, it was hailed as a masterpiece and also panned as a hack job (more the former than the latter). It was impossible to listen to it without hearing raves and rants. And then Arcade Fire became a kind of punchline or punching bag, the band people loved to hate (although not as much as Nickelback). I didn’t write about this record then because I wanted to let the air clear. And then I kind of forgot about it. I pulled it out again recently and found that I really enjoyed it. It’s a long album with a lot of different tempos. It reminds me of the kind of albums I used to listen to as a kid, yes in the suburbs, in which I could absorb an entire hour in one sitting (preferably while driving).
It’s not as indie as their first album nor is it as dark as Neon Bible. Indeed, with the instrumentation and easy melodies, the album is almost pop (or more like radio friendly AOR music from the 70s and 80s). There’s orchestration (but Arcade Fire has always had orchestration, that’s why there are eight of them in the band). There’s heavy piano (which is possibly the most notable difference on this album–the keys have gone acoustic, which definitely makes the album sound more 70s than 2000s. And there’s big choruses.
“The Suburbs” starts the album, but it’s really hard to deny “Ready to Start”–a bouncy number with a very winning chorus (yes, nominated as song of the year, but deservedly so). “Empty Room” opens with a violin section that I assume is sampled (its sounds very classical and more as a quote than an introduction to the pumping, rocking song that follows.
“Private Prison” has great backing vocals in the chorus–Wim Butler and Régine Chassagne play off each other so well. “Suburban War” has a great guitar riff–melodic and pretty in its repetition. “Wasted Hours” is one of the few folky songs I can think of Arcade Fire playing–but it’s a traditional kind of folk–with la la la las–with a twist.
There are two tracks with a Part I and a Part II. In both cases the second part complements and surpasses the first part in terms of overall energy and catchiness. “Half Light II” is a beautiful soaring track and “Sprawl II” (the one with Régine singing lead), is one of the best tracks on the album (the way the “mountains beyond mountains” section soars is wonderful). That honor of best tracks also goes to “We Used to Wait” with its simple piano and cool guitar riff at the end of the verses.
The album feels like a lot of music I grew up with–radio friendly hits that perhaps Butler listened to as a kid, and as he reflects back on them he updates and deconstructs them. “Modern Man” and “Empty Room” feel this way. “Month of May” sounds like “Beat on the Brat” while “Deep Blue” opens with a vibe of “Happy Together” but moves beyond it to a massive (and massively good) chorus.
It’s safe to believe the hype–there’s nothing here that will blow your mind, but taken together it is a very satisfying collection of songs. I also just learned that there were 8 different covers created for the album (although they all look vaguely the same). The one above is the version I happened to get.
[READ: January 4, 2013] “Knowledge”
I didn’t know anything about Gordon Lish when I read this story. The name sounded vaguely familiar. Then I looked him up. Evidently Lish has been writing for a long time, although he hasn’t written much recently. He is more known for his editing than his writing.
This story is a self-obsessing tale in which the words that the narrator is saying are more important than what the words mean. So the beginning of the story has the narrator stumbling, repeating, reiterating and then alliterating (which he criticizes himself for doing) without really getting anywhere. He frets that everyone is watching him–the neighbors, the doorman–and that his sneaky actions were seen by all, especially when the masking tape stuck to him.
Strangely, as the story reaches its midway point we see that the narrator is Gordon Lish himself and he asks rhetorically if the reason he has removed the flyer from the telephone pole (hence the masking tape) is because he himself had something to do with the message on the flyer itself.
Gish asks if he is the culprit in the flyer which is about a motorcycle accident on the street. He says he been only a pedestrian for years and could not be at fault. But rather than the content of the words, it is the words themselves that he objects to: “There is no comma between ATTENTION and PLEASE READ. Nor is ‘occurred’ spelt correctly…. Do you see?” And don’t even get him started on the part that reads “WE HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED.”
The end ends with a suitably unexpected conclusion (not too many stories end with the word bowels). No mysteries are solved–that wasn’t the point clearly. This is the kind of story that I enjoy but which I ultimately find empty.
For ease of searching, I include: Regine Chassagne