by Laura Stanley
I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone to see Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs make this year’s Polaris Music Prize shortlist. Since the album’s release, it seems that there has been nothing but critical praise, not to mention a Grammy for Album of the Year, and an ever growing fan base.
Despite the fact that I’m a huge fan of the album and a lover of all the well deserved attention this Montreal based band has been getting, I really didn’t know how to approach writing this Polaris essay. Why should they win? It almost seems a little too obvious.
Arcade Fire’s previous two albums, Funeral and Neon Bible (Nominated for the 2007 Polaris Prize) pushed this Montreal-based band into the spotlight, especially in Canada, earning praise and performing with the likes of David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen.
Although still a young band, Arcade Fire was creating confident and mature sounding records in a rock form, a form with definite nods to their mentors, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, which seemed absent from the current music scene.
In their third album, The Suburbs, lead singer and lyricist Win Butler portrays life in the suburbs and the struggles of the “American Dream” for an album that can easily be classified as a modern rock opera. Through Butler poetic lyrics, The Suburbs captures a time in modern society that is incredibly relevant.
Sound wise, The Suburbs varies from powerful arena-rock type anthems to quiet, yet equally powerful, folk ballads. Before the album’s release, Butler described the sound of the album as, “A mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young.”
The title track, and possibly the strongest (or at least the most listener friendly), introduces Butler’s lyrical motif in such a high quality and well formed piece of writing. In one of the strongest verses from The Suburbs as a whole, Butler states, “So can you understand? Why I want a daughter while I’m still young/I wanna hold her hand/And show her some beauty/Before all this damage is done” for a touching and awakening moment.
Songs like, “Ready to Start,” “We Used To Wait,” and “Modern Men” capture the lyrical premise that The Suburbs embodies, while the instrumentation is diverse, varying between an energetic percussion section (“Ready to Start”), a multi-guitar track (“Modern Men”) or powered by a strong piano riff (“We Used To Wait”).
The additional vocals from Régine Chassagne throughout The Suburbs, especially in the gorgeous “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” and the more acoustic, Funeral-like, Arcade Fire songs, “Wasted Hours” and “Deep Blue” just add more depth to an already multi-dimensional album.
Clearly the front runner for this year’s prize, The Suburbs has been dubbed by many as, “too mainstream” and the prize should be given to an up-and-coming band in need of it. If it wins this year’s prize, does that mean that the jurors are just catering to the masses? Right in the Polaris “mission statement,” they state, “Polaris recognizes and markets albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history.” What turns out to be a plus for many rising bands, could work in almost the opposite fashion for Arcade Fire.
Regardless of their popularity, The Suburbs is one of the most thematically sound albums from 2010 and truly an album which speaks for a modern generation.
If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this psychic will: