Three and something years ago, I came to the conclusion that Arcade fire was retreading old ground on The Suburbs, giving its fans more of the same with some interesting sonic experiments (Month of May, Sprawl). The album was very much on the long side, prone to slowing down in the second half.
This time, everything is right, sonically and culturally speaking. The right producer (a recently retired James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem), the right guest vocalist (one David Jones of New York City), and an inspired Caribbean-dub sound on the first four or five tracks. The songs are packed with hooks, countermelodies and instrumental flourishes. It takes a while to digest everything, but it's certainly attractive pop.
This album feels like much more of a break with the past three albums than The Suburbs did. Bits of speech (a weary, and comically anachronistic sounding "Do you like... Rock... 'n roll mu-sic? Cos I don't know if I do..."), a fragment of Jonathan Ross introducing the band during a real-life performance on his show all work together as a scrapbook of "found sounds" without getting too proggy.
It must be said, however, that length is an issue once again. The tracks are mostly around six minutes, and stretch onto two CDs despite potentially fitting onto one (see also Embryonic). Sadly, this does mean that there is a clear divide between interesting, energetic tracks on disc one, and plodding filler on disc two. The album could have easily lost four tracks.
It's the lyrical themes that are getting increasingly grating: Generation Y whinging about wanting to be different, being misunderstood by their parents (lyrics are almost always about the pure "us" and "we", ragtag bunch of Victorian circus performers vs an unholy alliance of parents and "the man"). It's hard to believe that Win Butler and Régine Chassange, both well into their 30's, recently became parents.
At thirty, Roger Waters was pondering life and death on Dark Side of the Moon, David Bowie was pushing the boundaries of (Iggy) pop with Brian Eno, and Thom Yorke was tinkering with Kid A in the aftermath of OK Computer. Win Butler can't seem to do more than recycle observations and truths that he came to as a teenager. Charming on the first album, this lyrical Peter Pan syndrome is rapidly losing its appeal. This is the next area for improvement, and I'm tremendously looking forward to writing a review of the next album.