It must be quite a burden, in today's world, to make "art" with your music.
Look at the music near the top of the album charts.In the UK, we've got Eminem with his middle-aged ranting; it's all a large noise signifying very little. It's also number one in America this week, followed by bragsta rap from Rick Ross and R&B retreads from Sheryl Crow.
None of these qualify as art, that's for sure. So what if you're a group smart enough to actually have thematic repercussions to your music, that makes records smart enough to be considered as a bit more than just endless twanging or moaning?
What if you're Arcade Fire?
In the past, there's been little doubt as to the musicality of the members of the group; they've made a couple of the most critically acclaimed records in the 21st century. It was smart stuff, for sure, but it wasn't terribly accessible. They probably should have gone by the name Arcane Fire.
With their new album "The Suburbs", the muddy waters of their past albums have been systematically sieved and filtered, to the point that "The Suburbs" is not only smart and resonant, it's listenable.
It's art, basically.
The album is rife with themes and observations, most stemming from the head of Win Butler, who grew up in the vast suburbs of Houston, Texas. Suburban areas are part of modern civilization, and are consigned to "developed" countries such as the USA, Canada, and the UK. Those who passed their formative years there are insulated from the chaos of city life, and are also sheltered from the realities of rural areas. "The City", in suburban terms, is either where grown-ups go to work, or a seething pit of crime and vice that you're meant to stay away from.
Arcade Fire (in the form of main songwriter Win Butler, anyway) has some serious nostalgia for the life less lived in the suburbs, but that comes with the requisite amount of bitterness and criticism of the articifialities of that existence. Suburbia, to Butler, is an endless drive up and down empty streets, while waiting for something to happen. Nothing EVER happens, though - that's the dichotomy of suburbia.
Musically, the album cuts through the heaviness of former Arcade Fire meanderings, and goes in a mostly straightforward direction. Opening track "The Suburbs" is a light piano driven ditty. "City Of No Children" sounds a little like a muted U2. There are flashes of Springsteen in "Half Light II (No Celebration)". "Deep Blue" sounds like Neil Young.
So you can see that the group has done their homework.
It's lyrically, though, that the band reaches its potential. The descriptions of dimly-lit playgrounds, towns "built to change", and the deadness of feeling all hit the mark in describing suburban existence. There are a couple of digs at modern technology as well; "Deep Blue" is indeed about that IBM computer that beat Garry Kasparov at chess, and there are references to putting down cell phones and laptops and embracing the "wild" nature of the world.
A lot of thought, attention to detail, and love has gone into making this record. As Arcade Fire continues to evolve, they've become one of the few bands to actually see the art in the world of music, and to carefully begin to practice it. That's something that can't be said about Katy Perry.
I'm giving "The Suburbs" a whopping 9 on the England Swings 1-10 scale.