Arcade Fire's latest long-player, The Suburbs, released tomorrow morning, will be as frustrating and amazing a record as 2010 has to offer. The band's fans will be forced to choose if they like 2004's Arcade Fire or if they can accept a version of the band that is at once evolving, reflective and undeniably more adult. Gone are the rebellious (Lies, Lies!) statements of grief and youth, unless you count the suggestion in the middle of "Month of May" that kids should uncross their arms and, well, dance more. In their place is a record about growing up, about getting older and coming of age in a sprawling and intentionally fake American empire. In 2003 Win Butler, just 23, wrote Funeral about death and anger in the eyes of youth. In 2009, Butler, on the edge of 30, wrote The Suburbs about his childhood, getting out and that something inside us all that just might implode.
The Suburbs is not just an older man reflecting on his youth, it is a richer, more fully-realized version of a band coming to grips with its power and methodology. The rapid and drastic arrangement shifts that defined Funeral are noticeably absent here. There are no severe second movements, save the satisfying builds on "Rococo" and "Suburban War," and this iteration feels more logical than necessary. These are inward glances, not rocket-propelled marching orders, even during the haunting coda to "Suburban War" where Butler intones, "All my old friends/they don't know me now," as a church of thudding drums and strings builds behind him. There isn't always a twist here, sometimes just a mid-tempo reflection on things stuck deep in the schisms of the American psyche.
This is not to say the record has no soul. "Month of May" is a thundering statement of purpose, both outlining the meta-reasoning behind the record ("2009, 2010/wanna make a record how I felt then") and a State of the Union for the children of this disjointed, strip-mall America the band finds so horrific and fascinating. If there is a moment of direction, of easy answers, it is certainly when Butler moans, "I know it's heavy, I know it ain't light/but how you gonna lift it with arms folded tight." If the kids are going to make it out, they'll need to get on their feet and move around first.
Of the many lyrical motifs that tie the album together like all these pieces of knotted string, Butler is most transfixed by stasis, the time wasted and lost. We rode around in cars. We waited for something to happen. Our youth was protected and patient. The band finally suggests something different: that we dive into our consciousness, explode our myths, our upbringing and find connections in the maw of pseudo-idyllic suburban life. For a group that has been so outwardly expressive, so unrestrained, this marks a different pathos. Before we raise our fists, we must turn in on ourselves, find the beginnings we deny and settle the rebellion within.