Originally posted February 15, 2011. Last updated March 2, 2019.
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)
All Songs written by Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, Jeremy Gara, Win Butler, Will Butler, Régine Chassagne, and Tim Kingsbury.
Released: August 3, 2010
Peak: #11 US, #11 UK, #11 CN, #6 AU
Sales (in millions): 0.77 US, 0.37 UK, 1.37 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: indie rock
Quotable: “A perfect actualization of the suburbs as metaphor for the classic North American dream.” – Andrea Warner, Exclaim!
In 1985, the U.K. launched the Brit Awards. Initially they acknowledged only British works, but in 2001 added an international album category. These awards had neither the prestige nor history of the Grammys, which were first handed out in 1959. They were, however, edgier and more in touch with current popular music.
The Grammys and Brit Awards co-existed for 35 years before they crossed paths and both crowned the same album as king of the hill – Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. It certainly fit with the hip quotient of the Brit Awards, but giving the nod to this fresh-faced band from the indie scene was a surprise coming from the notoriously stuffy Grammys.
Even as they chalked up critical acclaim, they found found commercial success. The Suburbs went to #1 on the Billboard album chart without sacrificing its indie sound – even if purists immediately jettison any indie band who achieves a modicum of success. (Check out my column for PopMatters delving into this topic in more detail).
The album speaks to “anyone who remembers excitedly jumping into a friend’s car on a sleepy Friday night armed with heartache, hope, and no agenda.” JM Frontman Win Butler said the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” WK Andrea Warner from Exclaim! calls the album “a perfect actualization of the suburbs as metaphor for the classic North American dream.” WK
It is “serious without being preachy, cynical without dissolving into apathy, and whimsical enough to keep both sentiments in line.” JM Pitchfork.com’s Ian Cohen says the band proves that they can “make grand statements without sounding like they’re carrying the weight of the world.” WK NME’s Emily Mackay said it is “an album that combines mass accessibility with much greater ambition. Pretty much perfect.” WK
“If nostalgia is just pain recalled, repaired, and resold, then The Suburbs is its sales manual. Inspired by brothers Win and William Butler’s suburban Houston, TX upbringing,” JM exploring, as Uncut’s Alastair McKay’s says, “the badlands between safety and boredom.” WK Andrea Warner from Exclaim! calls the album “a perfect actualization of the suburbs as metaphor for the classic North American dream.” WK
“The 16-track record plays out like a long lost summer weekend, with the jaunty but melancholy Kinks/Bowie-esque title cut serving as its bookends.” JM Win Butler said the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” WK
“Meticulously paced and conservatively grand, fans looking for the instant gratification of past anthems like ‘Wake Up’ or ‘Intervention’ will find themselves reluctantly defending The Suburbs upon first listen, but anyone who remembers excitedly jumping into a friend’s car on a sleepy Friday night armed with heartache, hope, and no agenda knows that patience is key. Multiple spins reveal a work that’s as triumphant and soul-slamming as it is sentimental and mature.” JM
“At its most spirited, like on Empty Room, Rococo, City with No Children, Half Light II (No Celebration), We Used to Wait, and the glorious Régine Chassagne-led Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), the latter of which threatens to break into Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ at any moment, Arcade Fire makes the suburbs feel positively electric.” JM
“Quieter moments reveal a changing of the guard, as Win trades in the Springsteen-isms of Neon Bible for Neil Young on Wasted Hours, and the ornate rage of Funeral for the simplicity of a line like ‘Let’s go for a drive and see the town tonight/There’s nothing do, but I don’t mind when I’m with you,’ from album highlight Suburban War.” JM
“The album was recorded in Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s residence in Montreal, with some parts being recorded at the band's studio in Quebec and in New York City. Win Butler describes the overall sound of The Suburbs as ‘a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young,’ stating that he wanted the album to sound like ‘the bands that I heard when I was very young, and wondered what those crazy noises were.’” WK
“The Suburbs feels like Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused for the Y generation. It’s serious without being preachy, cynical without dissolving into apathy, and whimsical enough to keep both sentiments in line, and of all of their records, it may be the one that ages so well.” JM Mike Diver of the BBC called it the group’s “most thrillingly engrossing chapter yet; a complex, captivating work.” WK He even went so far as to compare it to Radiohead’s classic OK Computer, but said “it’s arguably better than that.” WK NME’s Emily Mackay also ranked it with another classic, this one from R.E.M.: “This deserves to be their Automatic for the People; an album that combines mass accessibility with much greater ambition. Pretty much perfect.” WK