A new Arcade Fire album is sort of the indie rock equivalent of a new Harry Potter book—except you probably won’t see people dressing up like singer Win Butler and waiting in line at the Record Exchange for hours (his haircut would be too difficult to replicate) to get a copy of The Suburbs (Merge). Nonetheless, fans and writers get incredibly excited, all up in a tizzy hoping for the next Sgt. Pepper's or OK Computer. Hell, BBC has already written that The Suburbs is better than OK Computer. That’s up for debate, but there’s no doubt that The Suburbs is a really, really good album.
It lasts just over an hour, and every minute is justified. Songs like “Rococo,” “Suburban War,” and “We Used To Wait” demonstrate Arcade Fire’s mastery of intense song buildup and each track takes off slowly and develops into a massive peak, heavy on intense, layered orchestration. While “Empty Room,” “Ready To Start,” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” are pure intensity, rushing head first into a wall of luscious textures and breathtaking artistry.
Since the release of 2004’s Funeral, Butler’s voice has gotten stronger. On The Suburbs, he sounds more confident and clearer than ever. Ballads like “Sprawl (Flatland),” “Wasted Hours” and “Deep Blue,” with their organic feel and rich melodies, best showcase his growth. “City With No Children” is where the group earns their reputation as the next E Street Band, and songs like “Modern Man,” “The Suburbs” and “Month of May,” with their chugging rhythms and huge choruses, prove the septet is ready to take on rock radio.
Butler is familiar with the nuance of suburban life. He grew up in a Mormon family just outside of Houston, Texas, and his introspective and unique take on suburban childhood lends the album greater meaning—it’s a relic of middle-class existence and rebellion that will connect heartily with his audience.
Is The Suburbs the next Nevermind? Probably not. But it’s the Arcade Fire doing what they do best, with greater precision and skill than ever. Is it the best album of the year? There’s a good case to be made.
The album will be released on Tuesday, Aug. 3.