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post-Grammy musings and why it's worth listening to this album
on February 17, 2011
I wanted to write this review after seeing the Grammys and hearing the grumbles among the many commercial artists and confused public that have never heard of Arcade Fire. With a very well respected fanbase of musicians and fellow artists (okay, so maybe not necessarily among the pop and hip-hop set), it was a bit surprising to see so many blank expressions.
I think the most important thing that I can say about this is that music used to mean something more than a top 10 hit, album sales, or branding. Music was not created to target a particular audience or achieve a max level of radio rotation. I love pop and hip-hop music, but when we become so obsessed with the artificial markers of success, we lose something. I think the Grammys did a great job of trying to strip away these markers and understand something about the craft of music and what it means. An album is not a collection of singles. In this, they got the nominations right and Arcade Fire are more than worthy of the accolades.
The Suburbs is a concept album that doesn't try to be a concept album. It effortlessly bounces back and forth between sounds and styles and creates an atmosphere of nostalgia, regret, hope, and longing, that reflects the sonic landscape of 80s-90s 'burbs. I had read the initial press on the album and understood that it was an exploration and expression of growing up in the suburban sprawl. Even as a fan of their previous albums, it took repeated listens to finally get it - now it seems to get even better each time I listen to it.
The album itself is a pure rock and roll album with no tricks or illusions. It's an album crafted from the ground up (written, performed, and produced) by a group of musicians that believe in the music as a medium and a message. No pandering to the lowest common denominator to produce a pop hit or radio friendly single. In my opinion, separating a song out of the album diminishes the whole - you lose the context of album in the same way that reading even the best chapter out of book doesn't really tell you the story.
Some of the best music out there has never been played on the radio or seen a stint on MTV - consider how radio and music video stations get their playlists and what motivates what gets put out there. Are we demanding this music, or are we being fed this music and told all the reasons we like it? The fact that this album broke through the veil of the multi-million dollar machinery of the music industry should tell you something.
Give it a try - whether you traditionally enjoy the genre at all is unimportant. You may just surprise yourself and discover something new about the potential of music.