Dear Internet (especially internet music sites),
I am just writing to let you know that I won’t be paying attention to anything you say about The Suburbs, the new Arcade Fire album. The reason I’m avoiding your thoughts on the Arcade Fire, Internet, is because I know how you get about them. Already this year, I’ve seen you use “post-Arcade Fire” as a genre. I literally cringed.
It’s not that I don’t like The Suburbs, Internet. It’s actually that I love it. A lot. And I want to keep loving it without your incessant nagging about how it’s, like, so obviously inspired by a certain New Jersey musician who is so frequently mentioned in Internet music reviews these days that I refuse to even write his fucking name (if anyone reading this guessed “Ted Leo”, you’re wrong. But I love you for thinking that way). And it’s not that I disagree with the general consensus that the Arcade Fire might be an actually Important band – their music always seems to capture the zeitgeist without being trite, and that’s no mean feat. But Internet, you’re starting to get about the Arcade Fire the way you got about Radiohead, which is I’m sure how your Dad got about that certain unspecified New Jerseyite.
Comedian Greg Behrendt once opined (okay, it was last weekend at Largo) that a music review had to have the words “fucking” and “awesome” in it to really sell him on an album. If I may interpret his statement to mean that reviews are far too often overly academic and not nearly enough fun, I would suggest that this is your number one problem with bands like Radiohead and the Arcade Fire, Internet. Though you want to sound intelligent about the bands that you love, you mostly end up sounding really boring and more impressed with your thoughts on the Arcade Fire than you are with their music. Anyone who has ever read Bollocks! knows that I never try to sound intelligent about the music I love.
So but why should people listen to The Suburbs and can I phrase my answer in the form of something unpretentious and even more unboring? Here’s the thing: The Suburbs is musically gorgeous and sometimes musically raucous at the same time and, substance-wise, it’s spot fucking on. I can expand on that, striving always for your entertainment and edification.
Win Butler has always been a pretty forthright dude, lyrically speaking (polysyllabic words don’t make music reviews boring/pretentious, but using the word polysyllabic probably does. I’m willing to take that risk). But I’ll tell ya what: on “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” (from way back on Funeral), when he sang, “There’s a spirit/ that I used to know /and it’s been drowned out/ by the radio,” I kinda got what he was talking about. There’s a spirit at work in the Arcade Fire’s music that is most definitely not present in a lot of other bands. Like, just for instance, the Killers. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the Killers’ music (there is, but that’s for another time), but I also don’t know anyone who has heard “Mr. Brightside” and thought, “Wow. That absolutely perfectly resonates with one of my own emotional experiences.”
On The Suburbs, Win Butler is not just dealing with the modern alienation that comes from growing up in neighborhoods that are identical as far as the eye can see (I avoided this little problem by spending my formative years in a single-wide trailer with a drunk and a psycho). That’s part of it, sure, but the more I listen to this album, the more I think Win Butler is tired of drawing battle lines. See, Internet, this is where you might use a word like “mature” in your review and honestly, that’s kind of lazy. “Mature” doesn’t cut it. That’s like saying Black Flag’s Damaged is “intense.” If you listen to the music, you need more words to describe what’s happening. On “City With No Children”, Butler talks about millionaires, saying “I used to think I was not like them/ but I’m beginning to have my doubts.” Later, he talks about how “the music divides us all into tribes” (on “Suburban War”); at a time when America seems so fucked up by factionalism, these sentiments carry a lot of weight. The Suburbs dares to imply that maybe this constant need to have enemies and always be fighting them is one of the more pointless human endeavors. We have more awesome shit than ever (I have the internet in my fucking pocket now. Literally) and, the positive benefits notwithstanding, we’re less patient than we’ve ever been, both in waiting for more awesome shit and in how we deal with one another.
This is kind of exciting shit, isn’t it, Internet? At least, it cuts a little deeper than “Are we human or are we dancer?” (and by the way – where are the dancer’s unions and political-correctness people to jump up the Killers’ collective butt for suggesting that dancing is somehow not human?) The thing is, Internet, you get all tingly and chatty about the Arcade Fire because they have a real chance to go down in history as a band that accurately chronicled what it was like to be alive at the start of the 21st century. “We Used to Wait” is practically wearing the zeitgeist for a hat and that’s one of the reasons I love it, but that doesn’t mean “Post-Arcade Fire” is a legitimate genre (in fact, Internet, we need to have a serious discussion about your obsession with genre. But we can do that later).
I guess my fear, Internet, is not how I will feel about the Arcade Fire because of what you say about them. I’m afraid that people who have never heard the Arcade Fire will see the giant cyberspace hard-on you have for this band and be frightened away from the music. And as much fun as I have writing about music, the writing about it is extremely secondary to actually listening to it. I write this shit because I love music and maybe, if I’m the luckiest nerd in the world (which I might be), I can turn some people on to great music. So I close, Internet, with a few phrases I suggest you use to discuss The Suburbs:
“The Suburbs is fucking awesome!”
“You know that guy from New Jersey with whom a lot of Baby Boomers are obsessed? And it kinda creeps you out a bit? Yeah, the Arcade Fire doesn’t really sound much like him.”
“Holy shit, The Suburbs is a good album.”
“Five out of six doctors think listening to the Arcade Fire will make you a better lover.”
“The Suburbs is a pretty good album to listen to while you’re fucking.”
Chorpenning and the imaginary Bollocks! editorial board.