Arcade Fire's first album Funeral was, as the name suggests, mainly about death. But it wasn't about fear of dying, it was about dealing with the death of close friends and family and how the flipside of grief is joy at still being alive. It was also about childhood memories and the myths and legends that everyone creates and carries with them from this time.
Neon Bible was far more angry, raging about all the injustices in the world and much of it seems to be about the fears and paranoia of parenthood. I remember when it first came out, listening to it just after an apocalyptic Melbourne heat-wave which was full of bushfires, power cuts and the fury of the Australian landscape. Needless to say, it seemed to make perfect sense and I enjoyed it immensely at the time, but unsurprisingly it isn't really an album that I return to much. It is just too histrionic and off-kilter to be a satisfying and enjoyable listen.
Third album The Suburbs takes us back to childhood again, but this time it seems to be a very specific teenage period between about 13 or 14 and leaving home, unlike the stories on Funeral which come from an earlier and younger, more innocent time. It is beautifully done, looking back with a genuine, but clear sighted fondness for this phase in life, without being nostalgic. The balance between the music and the lyrics is perfect, and as a recreation of a specific time and place you would be hard pushed to come up with any better examples in any musical genre.
The two standout tracks for me, which have presumably already attained modern classic status – Half Life I and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – are surprisingly reminiscent of my two favourite songs on Funeral – Wake Up and In the Backseat – appearing at similar points in the track listing and showcasing all the best facets of their craft. It would have been higher up in my list, but for the fact they try to cram too much in and consequently the quality control slips up and lets a couple of howlers like Rococo and Month of May through.
Anyway, no matter where you grew up (small town not the suburbs for me), it will bring back all those wonderful teenage memories and show how reassuringly universal the experience is.