A decade or three ago, Arcade Fire probably wouldn?t have needed the ?indie? appellation; they?d just be rock. Today, the grand, earnest Canadian collective is almost old-fashioned in its commitment to dense and deeply felt albums, the kind of passion projects that defy easy digestion but ultimately yield rich rewards. (Hence, perhaps, the professed Arcade fandom of names like Bono, David Bowie, and Peter Gabriel.)
The band certainly aims for transcendence on The Suburbs—a work of impressively fervent majesty, even if nothing here moves them forward substantially from their enthralling 2004 debut, Funeral, and darker 2007 follow-up, Neon Bible. Frontman Win Butler continues to toggle between near-messianic uplift and flat-out despair, hurtling giddily through ?Empty Room? with wife/bandmate Régine Chassagne one moment, bemoaning the diminished state of ?Modern Man? over a loping Tom Petty riff the next. As on Funeral, the band returns again and again to certain themes—childhood, alienation, the titular suburbs—circling back with both straightforward sequels (?Half Light I,? ?Half Light II?) and subtler refrains (?Rococo? begins where ?Modern Man? leaves off lyrically). Running through it all is a thick vein of nostalgia, from the wistful ditty ?Wasted Hours? to the anthemic ?City With No Children.? At 60-plus minutes, Suburbs could use an edit, but it seems churlish to begrudge them a little indulgence when there is so much here to savor. A?