Friday, May 28, 2010

Two songs from Arcade Fire's upcoming album, The Suburbs

On NPR's "All Songs Considered." If you click the link labeled "Hear The Interview And Songs," they play one song ("The Suburbs") right at the beginning of the interview (1:10), and there's one more song ("Month of May") at 16:40. The album is supposed to be released in the US on August 3.

Both of the songs are pretty mediocre for a band that's had so many great songs in the past — and these are presumably highlights of the new album. The music is OK, not bad, but they've lost that magic that made their debut album, Funeral, so compelling.

It's also painful listening to the interviewer (Bob Boilen), after they play "Month of May," struggling to formulate a question about how the band's music has changed. Boilen seems to be an Arcade Fire fan, and I bet he realizes that the new album is probably going to be a disappointment. But when you're on NPR interviewing one of the most acclaimed indie bands, you're not going to criticize their music. So you have to come up with a question like this:

When I think of the scope of your music and falling in love with it in 2004, and then hearing this, I feel like you're sort of gravitating more to, uh, rock 'n' roll fare, and the early stuff was more like, "What kind of sound is this?" I mean, obviously, we've only heard two songs from the record, so it's a little hard to tell.
This is a somewhat understandable reaction to "Month of May," which is self-consciously heavier than Arcade Fire usually is — though it's akin to the scorcher from Funeral, "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)." The question makes less sense applied to the title song, "The Suburbs," which sounds like a watered-down version of songs from their previous two albums. It's not in a particularly different genre than "Rebellion (Lies)": mid-tempo, intense but restrained, piano-driven rock with soaring melodies over a steadily thumping rhythm section. The difference is more intangible: "The Suburbs" just isn't the breath of fresh air that "Rebellion (Lies)" (the #29 song of last decade) was.

What Boilen might have been thinking, but couldn't say, is that Arcade Fire started out seeming like they would be one of the great bands of their generation, but it seems more and more like their greatness was mostly confined to one album. Of course, I'll have to listen to The Suburbs in full once it comes out to see if I'm right about this . . .