As closing lines to reviews go, saying a record is ‘better’ than Radiohead’s oft heralded ‘OK Computer’ is a brave one. It’s also exactly what the BBC take on Arcade Fire’s third album suggests; not that there’s any pressure, or anything.
Truth told, Arcade Fire have barely put a foot wrong until now. Their brilliant debut may just edge out 2007’s ‘Neon Bible’ in most blog comment arguments, but both records showed a scale of vision that few others could match on record, and nobody was touching live. As possibly the defining band of that mid noughties generation, if third time proves a charm a throne in the higher echelons is surely guaranteed.
In terms of stand out moments it’s possible the more demanding set of ears will be crying out for a ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, ‘Power Out’ or ‘No Cars Go’. Taken track by track, those fantastic heights may need a few more listens. What remains in it’s stead is the kind of consistency that could mark ‘The Suburbs’ out as the pick of the bunch.
That’s not to belittle Arcade Fire’s previous bodies of work; if such a thing was possible, this would be a ten out of ten to their nine and a halves. Naturally, no record is perfect, but ‘The Suburbs’ makes a fair stab at it.
To most, the title track will be pretty familiar already, what with it’s more than occasional radio play over recent weeks. In context it’s a fine start to something bigger, leading into ‘Ready To Start’. A real storming launch pad, it’s a one-two that sets the groundwork perfectly.
The real heart of ‘The Suburbs’ comes with the pair of two-parted numbers, though. ‘Half Light’, a string laden piece that heads from understated into a soaring beat that’s sure to stand hairs on end, is the kind of epic that Muse try but fail to pull off every record. ‘Sprawl’, on the other hand, is quite different - it’s first part downbeat and lilting, it’s second sparkling, up tempo and unashamedly close to a full on pop ballad. Something that works surprisingly well, in all honesty.
For sixteen tracks to contain no turkeys is an achievement in itself. For them to keep a consistent level of quality is remarkable. ‘Empty Room’ with it’s frantic strings and the understated hand claps of ‘City With No Children’ both mark highlights, but with the bar set so high they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
Arguing that Arcade Fire have gone three for three with ‘The Suburbs’ would be futile. While it could be said there’s a lack of the primal force that dominated ‘Funeral’, it’s been replaced with craft and beauty. This probably isn’t their ‘OK Computer’, but it is pretty damn wonderful. Who would ask for more?
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