Sunday, 24 July 2011

Why 16 songs is enough

Hey all. Just a short post today about Arcade Fire, because I finally got around to listening to the three new songs they ungainly wedged on the end of their masterpiece album 'The Suburbs' this year, along with that awesome film Scenes from the Suburbs. These three tracks are two entirely new pieces, 'Speaking in Tongues' and 'Culture War', and an extended version of the existing Suburbs track 'Wasted Hours'.

First, I'd just like to say that I love the album. Of course I do. I've said that before and I'll say it again. I'm not slagging off the album at all, I just simply think two extra songs - especially placed so stupidly at the end of the album - ruins it a little, and I encourage anyone who wants to appreciate 'The Suburbs' fully to buy the original.

Here's why - the album starts with the song 'The Suburbs', a wonderful lilting song that begins the album so perfectly. And, after all is said, the final (16th) song of the album, 'The suburbs (continued)' drifts back in with that melody we remember from the start to tie everything together into a neat indie rock bundle. Lovely. Or not - the two additions to the album ('Wasted hours (extended)' simply replaces 'Wasted hours') are simply added on to the end, thus obliterating the calming and fading out effects of 'The suburbs (continued)', thus ruining any sort of beginning-middle-end the album had. Now it's beginning-middle-end-extras. I'm OK with new songs, even new songs that are tied in with the album, but why not just release a 'Culture War/Speaking in Tongues' single that is designed as an extra release to 'The Suburbs' album, without putting the songs in the album itself? Yeah, I know why, because putting 'deluxe version' on the end of the title will sell a whole bunch of copies all over again. Bloody consumerism.

Nice album cover, though.
'Culture War' is perhaps the best of the two new tracks, haunting like many other songs from the album. It also has some excellent powerful lyrics, such as 'We'll be soldiers for your mommy and dad / in your culture war' and one of my favourite lines, 'Now the future's staring at me / like a vision from the past / and I know these crumbs they sold me / they're never gonna last.' No doubt 'Culture War' holds the lyrical impact of the two.

'Speaking in Tongues' has its own charm, starting almost like an ABBA song mixed with Arcade Fire, but soon speeds into the usual AF sound when Win comes in with his lyrics. It doesn't sound that similar to other songs on the album, though, tempting me to think that it was made afterwards, and so is the next evolution of Arcade Fire's musical style. Its melody is a little too regular for the more abstract sounds of 'The Suburbs', though underneath Win and Régine's vocals there is a familiar guitar sound pulled from 'Suburban War'. For me, 'Speaking in Tongues' is the weaker of the two. Plus, it's not that meaningful anyway. And you should know I love 'The Suburbs' for its meaning.

Where that meaning is at its purest is in 'Wasted Hours', what many dismissed as a dull song. Sure, it's slow, and sure, it lacks the energy of some of the more catchy tracks on the record, but its lyrics are brilliant and central to the album itself. Especially, later on in the song, the line 'But now we see / we're still kids in buses longing to be free'. You may not see it, but the meaning of that goes above and beyond everything the album says. The album is remembering a childhood long gone, and the trials and tribulations of it, and how the person is 'moving past the feeling'; forgetting their past and what it was like and what they felt. The line in 'Wasted Hours' says that they're still in the same state as they were when they were a kid - they thought growing up would provide freedom and happiness but in fact they're still stuck in the same old system, still on the buses relying on other people to get by. Fantastic line.

Anywho, the update of 'Wasted Hours', tactfully named 'Wasted Hours (Extended)' brings some variation to the otherwise 'dull' song (I didn't think it was that bad, actually). It's almost identical to the original at the start, but the end brings a faster pace and more layers for a memorable piece of music (though reusing the guitar melody in 'Sprawl I', it seems). That's the gem of this deluxe album for me, bringing a good piece of music to some good lyrics.

So the deluxe version of 'The Suburbs' does have its advantages, but I'm still not sold on the placement of the two extra songs in the track listing. I like albums to be an experience, not a collection of equal, unrelated songs. And I though 'The Suburbs' was the perfect example of a coherent, beautiful and powerful album. It still is; just don't buy the deluxe version.



John said...

Also, my ideal Suburbs track listing:
The Suburbs
Ready to Start
Modern Man
Empty Room
City with no Children
Culture War
Half Light I
Half Light II (No Celebration)
Suburban War
Month of May
Speaking in Tongues
Wasted Hours (Extended Version)
Deep Blue
We Used to Wait
Sprawl I (Flatland)
Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)
The Suburbs (continued)


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