Arcade Fire, ‘The Suburbs’ – First Listen

Arcade Fire’s third album comes out on Monday (August 2). After the jump you can read our track-by-track guide, plus explanatory notes from the band themselves.

Plus, here’s a video in which the band discuss the making of the record.

The Suburbs
Opening with rolling bar-room piano, the title track is gentle, jaunty and warm with a lolloping bass and warm Band-ish feel. Win Butler’s vocal is rich and world-weary, like a less-tremulous Ryan Adams.

Ready To Start
Picking up the pace, this has the urgent, fractious energy of ‘Tunnels’. It’s stately, melancholic but resolute, with an urgent rhythm and riff. “Businessmen drink my blood like the kids in art school said they would”, resolves Win.

Modern Man
A gently stop-start track with a lazily unwinding grace and delicate touches of synth in the background. The chunky, muted riffs recall Television.

Opening with shivery synths and brittle electro-acoustic-y strums, this has touches of ‘Ocean Rain’-era Bunnymen in the grandness of scope, the sweeps of string and the haunting backing vocals.
Régine Chassagne: “Win was strumming the chords on the guitar and I was on the couch and said, Hey, those chords sound like baroque music. So the word rococo comes from the baroque. We recorded it at the church with everyone together in one room, and it spontaneously grew from a small song into something big. At one point the guitars sounded like Nirvana!”

Empty Room
Quick, stabbing strings and a throbbing headlong rush of bass propel Regine’s voice into a cloud of distorted, swirling guitar. The huge chorus of “When I’m by myself I can be myself/And my life is coming, but I don’t know when” is reminiscent of ‘Keep The Car Running’.

City With No Children
Good-time rock’n’roll that isn’t going to do away with those Springsteen comparisons. Again it has an elegiac, widescreen feel.
Win Butler: The feeling of that song is: if you’ve ever been in Williamsburg or those parts of London where everyone has the same haircut and is 30 years old… you have a lot of pressure to be part of commercial society. It’s really difficult to try and navigate.”

Half Light
Like much of the album, it’s restrained and spare, with touches of bells, a low rumble of bass and a sweep of strings.

Arcade Fire

Half Light II
Ominous synths give a vaguely Numanish feel, with treated guitar and a big thumping drumbeat; the effect is a bit Eurythmics by way of late Killers

Suburban War
This one has a darkly romantic feel that would do REM proud. “Let’s go for a drive and see the town tonight/There’s nothing to do, but I don’t mind when I’m with you”, croons Win.

Month Of May
The fiercest track on the album, the brutally chugging riff is a brash, sexy shot of raw energy.
Win Butler: “This burst of energy and almost violent, Spring sort of feeling really needs to be stripped down and simple and tough and lean. It’d be weird for there to be a Hungarian men’s choir on this song.”

Wasted Hours
Another gently swinging acoustic number, again recalling Ryan Adams in that sense of simplicity but also grandeur, that subtle wash of keys and the homely backing guitar.

Deep Blue
Another ghostly strum, with haunted piano, the title referring to the chess-playing supercomputer developed by IBM that defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1986.
Win: “‘Deep Blue’ to me sounds like Neil Young with Depeche Mode at the end. Which shouldnt work, but I think it does.”

We Used To Wait
Needling, nagging piano chords backed by drums and slashes of muted guitar as Win frets that “I used to write letters, I used to sign my name/I used to sleep at night/By the time we met the times had already changed”.
Jeremy Gara (drums): “It’s almost Elton John, it’s a piano rock song, like ‘Bennie And The Jets’!”

The Sprawl (Flatlands)
Funereal strings mourn lyrical reflections on lost childhood haunts before piano soothes with melancholic chanson nostalgia.

The Sprawl (Mountains Beyond Mountains
Sadness is dispelled by this disco-tinged, Abba-esque ’70s radio pop number.

The Suburbs (Reprise)
As the album returns to the opening track, it feels more resolute, heavier but more hopeful than when it began.

Arcade Fire grace the cover of the new issue of NME, on sale from Wednesday 28 July

Subscribe here and get NME for £1 a week, or get this week’s digital issue.