Archive for August, 2010

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (My thoughts)

August 4th, 2010 No comments

I grew up in suburban Chicago in Wheaton, one of those towns, that was in the midst of a slow and steady growth. I remember when the intersection between Naperville and Butterfield roads was cornfield in any direction you looked. Today this intersection is a full fledged strip mall containing a couple grocery stores, and too many shops to speak of. The sad and depressing fact would be that anytime I visit the memories begin to fade. The stores and buildings of my youth are being replaced by modernity. Corporate America has taken much of the local feel to this sleepy Christian town to feel a bit foreign.


My high school stands in the midst of it’s own crisis. The property no longer houses any students and the city is not sure what to turn it into. In some ways, it’s a slow and steady process of erasing my childhood.


‘Oh, this city’s changed so much since I was a little child. Pray to god, I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild.’ – Half Light II


You realize that in my case half of my life has passed since I graduated from high school and started the second part of my life. You begin to wonder about the time that was spent during those early years, whether it was wasting away, whether your friends will stay in touch, whether you will stay in touch and whether it was all worth it.


Do we just move on and modernize with our environment?


Unlike many of the rock acts that have sizeable audiences, Arcade Fire is one of those bands, at least in my opinion, that truly deserve their success. The band, fronted by Win Butler and wife, Regine Chassagne, have provided their third standout release. Arcade Fire burst on the scene with 2004’s ‘Funeral’, an album that deservedly put their album at the top of the buzz bin.


No doubt, listening to a song like Neighborhood #1, set itself as true musical ear candy. It simply provided itself to feel inspired, uplifting, rebellious and idealistic.  If Funeral was the mantra for 2004, then The Suburbs, is the response to that album that often feels cynical and reflective.


In Funeral’s ‘Neighborhood #1’, “We let our hair grow long” and on the song from The Suburbs, ‘Suburban War’ – “I can remember when you cut your hair, and we never saw you again”, symbolizing the end of their idealism.


In ‘Neighborhood #1’, they were too busy thinking of names for their babies, and in the song ‘The Suburbs’, he asks for a daughter while he is still young so that he could show her some beauty before it’s all gone.


Overall, ‘The Suburbs’ is a much more reflective record, as I mentioned above, and this is apparent in it’s sound. While the first half does promote several rock tracks, the second half of the album focuses more on our memories of the past, questions our choices and asks whether we would do it the same way again.


‘Ready To Start’ is aware of the bloodthirsty businessman, and while seeks out the path less taken is still fearful of the dark. ‘Modern Man’ looks at the other path that leads nowhere.


As the album progresses from the present we see the premise change into our ideals of our youth.


It doesn’t rip ‘The ‘burbs’, this is not blowing a hole in your anus such as Wilco’s ‘Misunderstood’ or treat it with such eloquence of a more “Simple and Innocent” time like R.E.M.’s ‘Nightswimming’ but plays it somewhere in the middle. Butler realizes that for many out there, the Burbs represent our youth, that focuses a healthy level of romance and cynicism. There seems to be an aura to ‘reconnect’ and at the same time push away.


‘Suburban War’ could have been written by the Boss himself. Speaking of our youth, we realize how much has changed but again as much as the streets change we realize that we are changing as well. The question of course is what changed and why. Are the streets indicative of ourselves. Is the loneliness felt due to that environment changing or did we cause something to shift?


On‘Wasted Hours’, brings some solace to the Suburbs, in the line ‘And what was that line you said / Wishing you were anywhere but here / you watch the life you’re living disappear / and now I see / we are still kids in buses longing to be free.’ Butler concedes that it is not the environment but ourselves that prevent us from being free.


In “We Used to Wait” Butler speaks of the fondness for letters and lack of modernity, “We used to wait for letters to arrive, but what’s stranger still is how something small could keep you alive.”


We have brought convenience to our fingertips. We live a life that is so much easier than our forefathers and at the same time fear that level of technology. There was something fascinating about picking up an album at a record store, looking at the cover and reading the lyrics. Today it’s downloadable, simpler, easier and yet not as satisfying. Our food is in a fancy box chosen to appease us. We spend more time tweeting in 180 characters rather than sitting down and spending time to write a long letter to someone or something. We have a family to take care of, children to raise and a husband or wife to spend time with.  We have a jobs that treat us just as a number.


And don’t even get me started in politics.


But one of the questions I thought about from the above lyric above from Suburban War:


I can remember when you cut your hair, and we never saw you again


Why? Do we truly not see the idealism in others anymore that we lose ourselves? Does that idealistic behavior truly change are we fearful of showing that? Do we just become a number and become numb in the process?


I ask myself this question a lot in my own writings. I consider myself a below average writer but my biggest fear is being numb and unemotional. This does not mean writing sad poems but rather putting my thoughts down on the computer screen for others, maybe 2 or 5 or how many people read this, maybe get a grasp of something that they can take for themselves. It is not about being popular or making money but for me it’s keeping my sanity.  This is my moment to dance and sing in the streets, as in ‘Sprawl II’. It is my moment to say whatever the fuck I want.


I am not sure I have the answers to this and whatever questions this album is tempting me with but I am sure to dig down deeper to find out more.


Where I feel that the Suburbs strength is it’s concept. From start to finish it builds upon all the layers of this concept and we begin to realize that our past is filled with happiness, sadness, laughter and exuberance and that need to break free today. The ‘Suburbs’ becomes a badge of honor if you were able to survive them.

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