ARCADE FIRE The Suburbs (Merge Records)
When I heard that the new Arcade Fire album was titled The Suburbs, my first response was “Uh-oh.” The soul-sucking uniformity of suburbia is a subject well mined in pop culture, often to middling, obvious results. Arcade Fire explored it with a sense of Spielbergian whimsy on its celebrated debut, Funeral; this, the group’s third album, is more like the work of director Sam Mendes ( Revolutionary
Road): slightly mean-spirited but ultimately vacuous, with overused sophomoric signifiers of big themes. The Suburbs aims for grand statement — the extensive running time may exemplify the tedious excess of sprawl better than the lyrical content — but it doesn’t cover much new ground. Only on the biting “Rococo” and the wise “City With No Children” does Arcade Fire sound human and not like a band engaging in paint-by-numbers angst. It all plays out as a grinding, midtempo dirge with some eclectic touches: a jaunty piano here, a disco beat and keyboard funk there. But maybe I’m too old for this album. As a teen, I’d have loved this sneering assault on all things mundane. Now I’m more comfortable with people choosing to live in ways that I find dull, I can easily avoid sprawl if I want to, and when I’m angry, I have much bigger machines to rage against.
— Robert B. Ker