On “The Suburbs”, Arcade Fire explores the human struggle that exists within a world confined by white picket fences. The band beautifully balances punk rawness with sophisticated songwriting and arrangement, providing a depiction of the everyman in which he is kicking and screaming in confusion and terror, but ultimately knows what’s wrong with the world. The sounds of Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles, two of Arcade Fire’s most identifiable influences, converge on “The Suburbs” in a way that ultimately defines the band’s unique sound. This is Arcade Fire’s essence: combining blue-collar grit with philosophical headiness.
It’s a misconception that with sophistication comes the acceptance that life is ultimately negative in nature. “The Suburbs” manages to access some of the deepest levels of despair known to man while ultimately finding a way to make it into something beautiful. On what’s perhaps the album’s most memorable moment, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, the band celebrates humanity’s destructive tendencies over a glossy disco beat. “We will never get away from the sprawl”, singer Regine Chassange muses, as if looking at the world from a bird’s eye view and laughing at neighborhoods that resemble cancerous growths. The world’s a crazy place – all we can do is dance the confusion away.
Even those who haven’t listened to “The Suburbs” probably know that it won Album of the Year in 2011. It was a beautiful moment when the award was announced and Win Butler and his band stormed the stage in a fit of adrenaline and childlike excitement. Really, the Grammy win was proof of Arcade Fire’s message playing itself out in front of the entire country. The Grammys, an institution that celebrates popular music, is perhaps just another form of suburban sprawl. Yet, within these confines, Arcade Fire was given the opportunity to play their music. As Win said on the song “Wasted Hours”, we deal with the limits of our world and ultimately turn this into “a life that we can live.”
Howard is a member of the class of 2017.