What's Playing

What’s Playing – Arcade Fire

I often forget The Suburbs actually exists. It’s not a bad album or anything – it’s just not very memorable. I remember the “ro-co-co-ro-co-co-ro-co-cooo” of, erm, Roccoco, the piano of the title track and the grandeur of Sprawl II fairly vividly, but I feel no compulsion to actually listen to them again. It’s just all very bland. It’s good background music but it lacks the immediacy and oomph of Arcade Fire’s previous albums.

The exception to that is The Suburbs (Continued). It’s a minute and a half long refrain of the first track that closes out the album, and it’s among the best pieces the band has ever produced. It has all the atmosphere, emotion and invention that was missing from most of the rest of the album. The album isn’t all bad, it has its moments, it’s just they usually take a lot of patience to get to. The Suburbs (Continued) cuts straight to the chase, and not in a faux rock out way like album dud Month of May (though, admittedly, even that does have a decent end – essentially when it drops the whole hard rock ‘we’re angry’ schtick).

Fundamentally, everything’s the same as the title track that it continues on from. The melody and lyrics remain intact, yet they’re presented in such strikingly different ways.  That piano that was front and center before, and the one that got kind of annoying and monotonous, is ditched in favour of layers of effect drenched strings and a wave of synths that instantly capture all the emotion, nostalgia and beauty that the lyrics, the saving grace of the original, strive to evoke. Those strings, in those first 5 or so seconds, contain more power and more emotion than the entire album. The vocals, similarly ethereal, are incomparable to the title track, so great is the difference. They’re tired, pained, raw and endlessly affecting in the saddest way possible.

The whole album is trying to say how Wim, now older and jaded, ultimately misses the innocence of the suburbs and his childhood – something he feels was lost with subsequent generations. This is the only song where I really feel that. This is the only song where he genuinely captures that sense of loss, regret and nostalgia. Why this wasn’t the tone and atmosphere of the whole album baffles me.

The sound they produce instead is so simplified and basic compared to the lushness and beauty of this minute and a half. It’s so empty, so emotionless. It’s the most straightforward stuff they’ve ever made, which is fine, but not when you then drop in something so much better at the end of it all and say “I guess we could have done this too”. This, in terms of how much it does with the time it has, is their saddest, prettiest, most emotive song. The Suburbs (Continued) remains the only song off that album I feel any compulsion to listen to for reasons other than ‘Oh, I’ll give The Suburbs another chance, it was pretty decent”. I usually just end up skipping to the end though.

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