The Judges Discuss: Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”

Following from yesterday's transcript of the Paul Weller debate, here are the Uncut Music Award judges on the Arcade Fire.

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Following from yesterday’s transcript of the Paul Weller debate, here are the Uncut Music Award judges on the Arcade Fire.

Allan Jones: I’ve got to say that this is the album that made me want to listen to Arcade Fire again. Like most people, I loved Funeral, but I didn’t get on with Neon Bible because I thought it was dreadfully overblown.


Mark Cooper: I think ‘overblown’ is part of the appeal of Arcade Fire in a way. They’ve always done ‘epic’, and perhaps that approach has been discredited in a lot of rock ‘n’ roll with bands like U2, but I think they have a natural soaring inclination to their music, it’s part of why I fell in love with them in the first place. I like the cinematic ambition of the writing, it’s kind of like a rock opera – I don’t know what it means a lot of the time, but I like their sort of JG Ballard portrait of the suburbs.

Allan: I know what you mean, it made me think of John Cheever, the meticulous sense of detail in it. I’m not sure if it works wholly, but when it does it’s brilliant, and I think the idea of writing a suite of songs reflecting the American condition through a suburban experience is really, really clever.

Mark: Suburbs and epic really shouldn’t work, suburban life is usually downplayed in music, but I really liked it, I think it’s a substantial record.


Tony Wadsworth: I really liked it, it’s certainly in my Top Four. I like epic, as long as it’s not epic for epic’s sake, or for a stadium’s sake. If it’s epic for an emotional sake I can get on with it, and that’s what this is, it’s a really emotional album. It’s actually very funny in places, and I’d never previously thought of Arcade Fire as a humorous band. There’s the track “Modern Man” which is in a deliberately weird time signature because the lyrics are about a skipping record. It’s good to hear they’ve discovered a sense of humour, and I love the fact that it’s ambitious in concept. It sounds like a proper album, not just a collection of songs, and it’s very literary and cinematic. Fantastic, really, and much better than Neon Bible.

Phil Manzanera: I loved it, and one of the things I loved about it wasn’t especially its epic nature. When I first put it on the first track immediately conjured up Wilco to me. Parts of it also reminded me of Neil Young. It’s clear that they work together as a band, it’s a very cohesive record. The lyrics are about something; I don’t very often analyse the lyrics of songs, but I think these lyrics will stay with me for some time. It’s a record that I could probably listen to again and again over a period of years. Before I came here today I wrote down plus and minus lists for each album on the shortlist, and Arcade Fire got loads of pluses but only one minus, and that’s a suggestion that it’s perhaps too long, but I couldn’t find any other faults in it.

Danny Kelly: I think it’s one of those records that you’re really gonna get or you’re really not gonna get. It’s interesting to hear people talk about its epic qualities, because sound-wise it’s smaller than their last album but it’s bigger in its ideas, the conception of trying to write a suite of songs not about a heroic America but an often forgotten America. I think it starts really well, the first tracks are the best, which is always a good thing in an album; “Modern Man” and “Ready To Start” are really good, but then I think it falls away a bit. I love Tony’s back-handed compliment about it being in his Top Four, which basically means he’s put it fourth! I think it’s good record, but it’s no Funeral, and it’s not quite for me.

Hayden Thorpe: I think all Arcade Fire albums are very meticulous, perfectly executed in detail, the production is flawless, but that leads to a problem for me as I think of them being so safe because of that. All the rugged edges have been sanded away to make it user-friendly for mass consumption. Also, I get the feeling that if the song itself isn’t quite working they tend to fall back on an epic production sound to help bolster it. I also think a 16-track album is a bit too long. It’s great, but I think it’s too orchestrated in a literal sense rather than a philosophical sense. It’s trying to be rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s doing it in such a calculated way that I didn’t find it especially convincing. I loved Funeral because it was so much more human, I think, and I’m quite sad that I feel them slipping away out of my grasp as they become more aware of the role they have to fill in the world at large.

Mark: Yeah, I suppose it does have that third album world-conquering feel about it, whereas Funeral was a much more ‘local’ record, and it can be hard for fans who were there at the start to watch the band go off on that journey. I know what you’re saying about not all the tracks being successful, but what I would say in their defence is that there are a lot more ideas in the eight, nine, 10 tracks that really do work.

Allan: Actually, I found it less calculated than their earlier records but more orchestrated. There are self-references within the songs, both musically and lyrically, so they’ve had to arrange all those different elements into a whole.

Mark: I just think they know themselves and their own vocabularly better now. When we first heard them they were so surprising, there were so many surges in the music, and I think they know that that type of sound has become their schtick – if schtick isn’t too unkind a description.

Tony: They’re more relaxed and assured now, I think, they’re a lot more comfortable in whatever their own skin actually is.

Allan: Yeah, I think they sound more comfortable in themselves and more confident now, they’re not striving to make a significant impact in the way that the worst parts of Neon Bible were.

Danny: That’s true, they have actually relaxed a little bit, and let themselves be what they actually are. I made a general note about the shortlist before I came here, and that was that at least half of these records are about struggle; struggle with self, struggle with place in the world, struggle with place in music.


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