5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

“Hey, put the cellphone down for a while.”

In the 1970’s, I was young. School summer holidays seemed to stretch forever. And it was always warm and sunny. Every day, we played outdoors. All of the kids in the neighbourhood, all ages. All together. We would go on adventures up to Indian Valley. We would walk across fields and meadows all the way to Eaglesham or Jackton. My Mum and Dad were young then too. Everyone was. All of that is long gone now.

The Suburbs is a special album for me because it evokes all of the above. It’s an album about more innocent, carefree times. About growing up in the suburbs, riding round on your bike and having adventures.

I loved Arcade Fire’s debut, Funeral. To this day I believe it is one of the best debut albums ever. The follow-up, Neon Bible, left me a little cold. So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with The Suburbs. What I got was an album packed full of sixteen absolutely perfect songs. There are no gimmicks. It’s not particularly innovative, in fact, it’s really very straightforward.

But they are beautiful. They are utterly perfect. Opener and title track, The Suburbs, sets the scene perfectly. It begins with the hookiest of piano riffs, introducing a wonderful melody and incredibly poignant lyrics.

What follows is a collection of songs that are outstanding. In particular, both Sprawl I and Sprawl II enthral the listener. The first is one of the most despondent songs of the decade. It is utterly tragic in its reflection of times past and lost childhood. The latter is the polar opposite, as Regine Chassagne’s vocal soars over a throbbing disco beat. The contrast between the two tracks is magnificent.

Ready to Start has become a live favourite of fans of the band and no wonder. Again, it’s a straightahead, no frills, rocking’ track – but it’s a very good one.

My own personal favourite track, however, is Deep Blue. Win Butler’s voice has never sounded so melodic as it drips with nostalgia, singing over an acoustic guitar and simple piano. And when he implores “hey, put the cellphone down for a while“, the hairs on the back of my neck literally stand on end. That’s how beautiful it is. I’m amazed that it’s a song so infrequently played live by the band.

It’s an incredibly honest and authentic album. Sometimes Arcade Fire can have a tendency towards bombast and grand statements. For me, this album is so good because they steer clear of that. Instead, they keep it homespun and simple.

It’s an album that takes me back to a really happy and special time in my life – despite not being recorded or set in that time. It makes me think of special people I have lost over the years. And if that doesn’t make it worthy of a place in my albums of the decade, then what does?


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