Arcade Fire – The Suburbs from Merge Records on Vimeo.

I love Arcade Fire. But when I heard the title of their latest album, The Suburbs… I winced. I figured, OK here we go: a rant about the soullessness and conformity of life amongst the big box stores and McMansions. Blah, blah, blah. Kind of an easy target, right?

But within seconds of playing the title track, my fears were put to rest. Win Butler’s lyrics don’t feel like a lecture – they’re much too fragmented and impressionistic to come across that way. Instead, he gives us vivid images of hot pavement, kids screaming and running through the yard, and a “suburban war”… but stops short of spelling it all out.

The accompanying video is similarly head scratching and it’s fascinating to see how director Spike Jonze interprets the music.  At the start of the clip, the teenagers are riding their bikes around the neighbourhood and goofing around, mirroring the languid piano and vocal melodies at the start of the song. It’s shot in an alluring way, with the camera following the kids as they wind around the sun baked streets.

But as things progress, there’s a sense of foreboding – that something’s not right with this picture. Helicopters zoom overhead and clouds of black smoke gather in the distance. By the time Win sings the lines “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling/and into the night”, all hell breaks loose. The dramatic scenes are intensified by the music, with the strings amping up the tension and Regine Chassagne hanging on that crazy-high note forever.

I’ve watched the clip several times and still don’t know what it all means. I could hazard a guess, but this isn’t a Cultural Studies seminar… and I could use some more coffee. But I wish you all a happy Boxing Day and hope you enjoy this song/video!