When Arcade Fire exploded out of Montreal with their acclaimed album Funeral, I had just left la belle province myself for school in the Maritimes. And even though I enjoyed Funeral’s intensity and emotion, personally I was still heavily entrenched in electronic music and was willfully allowing most new “rock” music to pass me by for looped blips and deep bass. Around that time, I was getting into the poppier side of electronic music with Hot Chip’s first album Coming on Strong, and now five years later, I’ve done a complete 360, where I’m allowing the new Hot Chip to pass me by (and dismissing it as tripe) and falling headlong for Arcade Fire’s third full-length album The Suburbs.
And what an album it is. One that blossoms a bit more with each successive listen, and one that is full of dynamic and proper indie rock songs that subtly recall your favourite musicians from the last 30 years. A small list: The Boss, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who, The Doors, Heart, Cyndi Lauper, U2, Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene, Bon Iver, David Byrne, oh yeah, and Arcade Fire. It is an amazingly calculated and mature collection of songs that immediately churns up a strong sense of nostalgia and emotion. But for this listener, the reason The Suburbs is such a genuine winner, and the reason it will most likely top my list for 2010, is the lyrics. They really resonate with me.
I think it’s because I’m at about the same age and same place mentally as the band — this liminal space between the end of youth and the start of adulthood — where I can now look back on my life with some real perspective, and the idea of “settling down” is actually beginning to seem like something valid, and something I’ve always truly wanted for myself yet up to this point have constantly denied.
So yes, the lyrics strike a definitive chord with me, and (depending on the day and my mood) I can barely make it through the opening track without my eyes glossing over. When Butler sings: “I want a daughter while I’m still young / I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty, before this damage is done…” it turns the emotion button churning deep in my guts, and I feel like his lyrics are suddenly speaking for me.
I’m unsure if a twenty-year old listener would feel the same, but lines like “All my old friends, they don’t know me now” and “You cut your hair, I never saw you again” from the Springsteen influenced “Suburban War” send me reeling back to high school and images of old friends loved yet forgotten who have gone on to start families of their own and get real jobs and move into freshly built houses in cities and suburbs across Canada and beyond.
And I guess, besides the reprise at the end of the album, this would be where the main Beatles influence comes in. John and Paul knew how to lyrically hammer down the emotion as well as speak to the kids of an era. And I wonder: What contemporary album has had lyrics that actually, truly speak to my generation? “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido?” I think not. The Suburbs is the Nevermind of twenty years later, where we no longer want to oh well, whatever, nevermind — now what we want to do is remember the past, and take hold of all the stupid mistakes and amazing strides we made to get to exactly where we happen to be now.
And sometimes I think to myself, what the fuck have I been doing for 30 years, because I ain’t quite there yet. Not by a long shot. And I start to freak out and panic and wonder what the hell went wrong? But then I take a deep breath and realize that it’s all right, because I am getting there, just not as fast and sure as I had initially (and naively) expected. Patience, persistence, and resolve are tough little bastards to hone, but definitely worth continually pursuing . . .
But I digress. “Month of May”, “Ready to Start” and “We Used to Wait” are solid and tight rockers that you can blast in your living room and get swept away in. “Modern Man” and “Rococo” are also great songs with strong lyrics, and “The Suburbs”, “Deep Blue”, “Suburban War”, “Sprawl I / II” pack the emotional wallops with tight changes and great orchestral accompaniment to boot. And then the lyrics of the end reprise sums it all up beautifully:
If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again
Check it out if you haven’t already. Love, ml.