“The Sprawl (Mountains Beyond Montains)”, the penultimate track on The Suburbs and captured on film here by the legendary Terry Gilliam at Madison Square Garden, is arguably the biggest departure yet for the Arcade Fire over an already pretty remarkable three-album/half-decade career. The song is a summation of the new album’s overarching themes of fading childhood memories and trying to hold on to the innocent state we all take for granted during our formative years. Musically though, on record, it’s a surprising bit of 80’s-tinged electro-pop sung by Régine that comes out of nowhere after a string of songs with unusually conservative arrangements during The Suburbs’ back half.
Much has been written over the past several weeks regarding The Suburbs, and the general consensus suggests that it falls somewhere in between Funeral’s indie-rock landmark status and Neon Bible’s handful of killer songs and overreaching world views. That’s a safe assessment, but one that I’m completely on board with - The Suburbs offers a more direct, less overtly dramatic version of the band that works very well over the album’s 16 song-long track listing. As an album, it’s less murky and more listenable than Neon Bible, yet not nearly as exciting or consistent as Funeral. The songs themselves are still epic, no band working today reaches the kind of grandiosity Arcade Fire achieve on nearly every song here (even with the semi-scaled down approach). It’s just that, as he did on Funeral, Win Butler has once again written a batch of big songs about small, personal feelings - ones whose universal images and sentiments are based in the homes, families, schools, cars, and sprawling suburban neighborhoods that so many of us grew up in. You don’t need me to tell you this, but The Suburbs is an excellent record, and, as evidenced by the recent #1 ranking on the Billboard charts, one that’s resonating with all sorts of music fans. Bravo.