By Brittany Rankin
Elm Staff Writer
When the award for Album of the Year was announced at the Grammys this year, I don’t think anyone was expecting for relatively obscure band Arcade Fire to beat out artists like Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry, and Eminem, who had been nominated in the same category. Before their Grammy win it seems like hardly anyone knew who Arcade Fire was (even the announcer seemed surprised). Having never heard of Arcade Fire myself I decided to listen to their Grammy-award winning album to see if it really was worth the award.
The band, native to Quebec, Canada, released their newest album in Fall 2010 titled “Suburbs.” The album starts out with the appropriately titled, “The Suburbs” which makes The Turtles’ hit “Happy Together” sound like a dirge. It is an immensely happy-go-lucky tune that literally sounds like it is coated in sunshine.
The lyrics take on an ironic quality as they mention bombs, destruction and fighting in a suburban war. This song goes right into the second track, “Ready To Start,” which juxtaposes the first track with dark lyrics and a minor key. This song has a great beat and is pretty catchy. As opposed to the first song which has a kid-like quality about the sound this one appears to have a more grown-up and scary tone to it especially with the lyrics, “Businessmen drink my blood / Like the kids in art school said they would,” which sounds terrifying. The song ends on an odd note that leaves it sounding unresolved.
The third song, “Modern Man” has a moderate tone to it and in lieu of the businessman reference in the last song gives an average feel to the song. It’s something one would listen to on the metro and to me feels like one of the least memorable songs on the album. It’s just plain. The lyrics are not exceptionally memorable unlike the last two songs, which had colorful lyrics.
The fourth song, “Rococo,” is strange. It pulls away from the “suburban” feel of the last three tracks and introduces a bizarre sound that reminds me of birds if they swallowed wind chimes. The song starts out peaceful but turns angry by the end with the guitar screaming and producing feedback.
“Empty Room” starts off with a very strong beat that is the fastest I have heard on this album so far. It is refreshing and the guitar enjoys sliding around. Also, it is the only song that features French lyrics. The song blends into “City With No Children” which has an equally moderate sound as “Modern Man” but is more enjoyable because it creates a bright sound with dark, ironic lyrics.
Track seven, “Half Light I” is reminiscent of a slow dance number if it was sped up a bit. It sounds like the perfect song to listen to while at the beach. It’s a nice song that has a cool, relaxing beat. Also, the lyrics are sung in a way that they sound distant as if they are being carried by the wind. This song goes right into it’s counterpart, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” which starts ominously with the lyric, “Now that San Francisco’s gone / I guess I’ll just pack it in”.
Wait, what happened to San Francisco?! I mean, the last song didn’t say anything about it. What really keeps this song going is the drifting lyrics set to the steady beat of a drum. This is the turning point in the album and acts as a power anthem that holds the center of the album in place but also giving the remainder of the album a certain expectation and quality.
The ninth song, “Suburban War” makes me think of the Vietnam War in tone and lyrics. I’m not sure if Arcade Fire was intending for it to sound that way but once the song hits three and a half minutes it definitely sounds like a war anthem with the building beat. It’s a great strong number that is one of the best on the album. Track ten, “Month Of May” starts with static but immediately dives into a dance club with an old-school rocking beat. This is a really short fun song that makes you just want to dance.
This song goes into “Wasted Hours” which contrasts to the previous number in a very acoustic and ballad-like fashion. It’s a simple song with a simple rhythm with background “la”s that make it enjoyable.
“Deep Blue” starts out at a moderate pace but picks up the pace by the second verse. The most memorable bits of it are the “la la la”s and keyboard. It’s a nice song to listen to even when the singers go into falsetto. Ocean waves can be heard crashing at the end of the song.
“We Used To Wait” wakes you up immediately with the jamming of a key over and over. This one upholds a fairly strong beat and even starts to rise by the end with the singer almost shouting, “Wait for it!”
The fourteenth song, “Sprawl (Flatland)” is mellow. And slow. And very melancholy. I feel like the lyrics are the best part of the song but it’s just depressing and my least favorite of all the tracks on the album. It’s counterpart, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is one of my favorites. It has a brilliant uplifting tone and beat and once the synthesizer starts it feels like a good-natured 80s pop song. The lyrics hark on depressing but the contrast is beautiful like many songs. By the end of it the synthesizer takes on a foreign sound which feels almost machine-like.
The album ends with “The Suburbs (Continued)” which echoes the first song, creating the same tune but slowed down to make it feel majestic. This song is a great way to wrap up the album as the lyrics from the first song fade out in the distance.
This is a brilliantly compiled concept album with a pretty good selection of songs. I wouldn’t consider all of the songs hits but the album as a whole is carefully structured and in the end, it works. Should it have won the Grammy? Well, it’s a hard decision to make but I think it deserved it.
Volume LXXXI Issue 16