Arcade Fire | The Suburbs

Merge (2010)
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  July 28, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars


"Half Light I" sounds as if it could be the soundtrack to an American Express commercial. The soothing lull of brittle chords, the steady sway of a tom-tom, and — WHAM! — the clouds open up to a choir of synthetic angels. You can almost feel the floor shake as the newlyweds tumble to the sofa in a heap of designer giggles. It's all so conveniently triumphant.

The Suburbs is a concept album loosely constructed around life in the bedroom communities where, unlike the super-charged Never Never Land of Arcade Fire's best work, plenty of cars go. The suburbs might be full of newlyweds, but they're also full of half-lived lives and regrets. In "We Used To Wait," Win Butler reflects on a life lived with more vitality: "I used to wait for it/Hear my voice scream and sing the chorus again."

But unlike the fruits of 2008's Neon Bible, where diverse standouts like "Keep the Car Running" succeeded on their own terms, Arcade Fire's attempt to make a grown-up album feels forced. At 16 tracks, The Suburbs is about four cuts too long. (They don't hit their mark until the fifth song, Régine Chassagne's tremendous "Empty Room.") And with titles like "Suburban War" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Be)" — which rhymes "sprawl" with "shopping malls" — there's not a lot of nuance.

Forgive them their "maturity" and what you're left with are Arcade Fire's two reliable trademarks: grandiose productions that, though generously layered, never really seek to go beyond three or four chords, and the hurdy-gurdy, rockabilly trembling of Butler's impeccable voice. It would help if the songs were better, but with all the up-and-down scales and chirp-chirp-chirpiness, the American Express commercial gradually gives way to a Riverdance special on pay-per-view.

ARCADE FIRE | Bank of America Pavilion, 290 Northern Ave, Boston | August 1 | $37-$42 | 617.728.1600 or

Related: Photos: Cheap Trick and Squeeze at Bank of America Pavilion, Photos: Widespread Panic at the Bank of America Pavilion, Photos: Black Keys at Bank of America Pavilion, More more >
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