When Canadian band Arcade Fire won the coveted “Album of the Year” Grammy this past Sunday for their third studio album, “The Suburbs” the internet momentarily imploded. A string of furious slurs were issued at the indie band on Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace. A host of disgruntled Eminem fans took to the web to recite chants of “Eminem Got Robbed.” A website called whoisarcadefire.tumblr.com was even made, dedicated solely to the cause of collecting some of these ill-timed, nonsensical internet tirades against so-called hipster garbage. In short, people were pissed. So a few questions have inevitably arisen: Why is a band that has for years captivated the attention of established music magazines such as Rolling Stone and Spin recieving so much hate? That answer is simple: because the majority of music fans are more than hesitant to admit that there might be some serious talent in the indie scene. A much more difficult question, that I aim to answer with this review, is as follows: Did the Academy feel partly responsible for the band’s failure to reach more mainstream base with their previous releases, and use the award as a wonderful cure-all to alleviate these past conditions?
Not at all. The band’s third release, is arguably their best. Before the album’s official release in August, frontman Win Butler described the album as “a mix of the Depeche Mode and Neil Young.” While this might sound like an unlikely combination, it is clear to anyone that has heard the album exactly what he was talking about. The instrumentals off “The Suburbs” have a strong eighties new-wave pulsating through them, blending superbly with poignant lyrics about the peculiar stratosphere that delineates everyday suburban life. On many songs, the instrumentals seem to overpower the vocals, such as is the case with “Ready to Start.” However, like with any record with an eighties feel, it is easy to get caught up with the dancey melodies, but the real credit to Arcade Fire is the way they are able to maintain the true essence of the song, electing to make songs that are more musical than they are vocal.
A common complaint against the band is that their songs have too much going on, but that is the beauty of their recordings. Take “We Used to Wait,” for instance, a song that is very stylistic in terms of production, but still manages to capture the attention of the listener with catchy vocals. Although it is best to listen to this record with a pair of good headphones, and like any true music enthusiast will maintain, all the way through, the true highlight of the album is the fifteenth track, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” The song, incorporating all the advanced musical arrangements the band is known for, seems to summarize all the complexities and tribulations of suburban life in a little over 5 minutes. This is the track where Arcade Fire stretch their musical wings, dispelling the popular belief that folks from the suburb don’t have in their lives difficulties to contend with. So, for all the dissenters out there, the real reason Katy Perry or Lady Antebellum didn’t win album of the year is not because of bias, but because Arcade Fire went above and beyond on their latest record, proving that the “Album of the Year” title is reserved for those daring in their approach, who aren’t afraid to flex their recording skills to get the quality just right.