Not any more

Arcade Fire’s textured ode to tangled roots

In Canada on August 3, 2010 at 08:46

The Suburbs

  • Arcade Fire
  • Merge Records

“Something don’t feel right,” Win Butler sings in Modern Man, one of the more sweeping odes of discontent on the latest disc from Montreal’s Arcade Fire. The song title alone tells you his unease is deeply conservative; at this point, the very word “modern” sounds a little out of date. “Man” is problematic, too – in Butler’s imaginative universe, the grown-up world is the home of disillusion and lost innocence. The band’s creative leader walks through life backward, with his eyes on a receding utopian vision of childhood.

Edwin Farnham Butler III, right, leads Arcade Fire during a performance in Nyon, Switzerland.

Arcade Fire rocks its roots

Carl Wilson profiles Arcade Fire in advance of the latest release.


The new wrinkle introduced by The Suburbs is that even the kids (idealized in earlier AF songs) can mess things up, especially when they’re forced into a hostile frame. The Suburbs is about blank living spaces that write hollow messages on our souls before we even learn to read. It’s the album-length sequel to Little Boxes, without that vintage anti-suburban anthem’s humour. Several songs refer directly to the bustling Houston burb where Butler and his brother William (also in the band) grew up, and the mythic desert hamlet where they were born.

Like the band’s previous work, The Suburbs has a grand, shambling character, as if only something large and shaggy could project the intense, essentially unstateable truths that need to be aired. Something don’t feel right, so let’s dive into that feeling and stay under till our lungs are ready to explode.

Arcade Fire perform a secret show at Hackney Empire in London, July 7, 2010.

Barney Britton/Redferns

Arcade Fire perform a secret show at Hackney Empire in London, July 7, 2010.

Songs such as Deep Blue are so densely textured as to imply a virtually limitless space, crowded to bursting with sound. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) assumes the closed-in totalizing feel of a dance club saturated by amped-up synthesizers and Régine Chassagne’s high-powered singing. Other tunes, such as Modern Man and Wasted Hours, go for a more intimate, handmade style, while Month of May pulls the band back to a propulsive, stripped-down form of old-time rock’ n’ roll.

Ultimately, The Suburbs’ lament rebounds on Butler, who realizes he can’t fully remove himself from what he loathes about his suburban roots, tangled as they are with old friendships and experiences. Wasted Hours mulls over the time blown “before we knew where to go and what to do”; but at the end of the record, Butler confesses that if he were able, he’d waste that time all over again. Specific and personal as this album is, in the end it’s about growing older, and about being able to remember too much that you can’t get back, or do over again.

“The past won’t rest until we jump the fence and leave it behind,” Butler sings in Suburban War. It will be interesting to see whether he chooses to go over that fence, or to settle into a more stubborn form of nostalgic codgerism.



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