The Arcade Fire are enigmas. Grammy award-winning, Merge Records-signed, analog-recording, anarchistic post-modern raconteurs. Is it any wonder they’re so easy to hate? Look at them. Their ambitious is made to elicit scorn. Not just from ever-present teen-pop market but from the self-important hipsters that once crowned them underground kings (although not the hip-hop duo Underground Kings, though that is forthcoming. We miss you, Pimp C.). They smack of pretension unbecoming of what is expectant of indie bands who work ethic consist of ” make music “. They’re also aren’t especially groundbreaking enough to transcend or validate that far-reaching ardor (R.E.M, Pavement, The Pixies and a few others have switchbacked those trails a few times). What they are doing, so far, is pretty damn good though. It’s not necessary a qualifier for the ” icon ” status that they seem to be looking for. It beggars investigation of what the democratization of the music industry, and the anti-demarcation of rigidity defining the acceptance of what is or isn’t Grammy-worthy looks like. Could be the harbingers of a new age of music or the end of all things? Fuck if I know. Do I think that The Suburbs was the best album of the year though? No (High Violet by The National holds that title). Do I think out of the nominees set, it was the best album? Yeah, it was.
The Suburbs, the Fire’s 15 track opus, is a youthful screen aimed at suburban life and bored upper-middle class hegemony thereof. Tracks like Ready to Start, Suburban War and Rococo, pick apart the trifling battles of youth and the passionate detachment that affluent white teenagers are usually composed of. Their rage is passive, leery eye and casket-aged in irony. There are songs for loiterers of the food court, appended with just-so-over it snark and wide-eyed fantasies of getting the hell out of the sprawl. It’s hard to tell if they’re completely serious, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that this band possess a sense of humor, so I can only guess is that they’re being 100% earnest. Everything is so airy and removed from itself. I wonder if lead singer/bandleader Win Butler knows any good jokes.
Sterophonically (made up that word today. Suck it, English Language!), the album comes forward with measure steps and pop appeal. There’s a phase state within them. The Fire make the imitation of a progressive indie darling, all ambition and seven pieces, but The Suburban is all pop-hooks and melodies. It’s way too radio friendly to be played in your local record store (all fifteen feet of it). The instrumentation is not bloated, but full. Lushy plinky piano. Big swelling guitar. All jaunt and harmonizing choruses. They never seem to rock. The pieces are there though, but constrain. They come alive on stuff like the Talking Heads-esque The Modern Man, but much like everything else they seem to be in it for themselves.
I guess that’s the biggest sticking point for the Arcade fire. They’re a distant lover. Giving but not really sharing. Tampering the ramshackle parts of themselves to present a pristine-raggedy front. They’re the guy who spends twenty-minute trying to get his hair to look like they rolled out of bed in the morning. They don’t seem to really go. They’re just standing off to the side, having a beer. They take us thorough the ‘Burbs but won’t let us go thorough the blank facade of the identical two-stories and car-park into the homes beyond.
Still, the Fire produces a winner in a year of winners. Here’s hoping the next time we head over to their side of the track, they open the door a little and let us in.
written by Benel