This is a piece I wrote several months ago, but couldn’t find the right time to drop it here. Anyway, with the recent storms and crappy weather, is there not a better time to read about long summers, childhood memories, and an album that inspires me to time-travel. Hope you like it. Paul x
Every now and again an album comes along, is listened too on a weekly basis, carried with you everywhere you go (thanks to smart phones, tablets and laptops), and four years on from its release still manages to surprise and expose the emotional edge of a scathing 42 year-old man.
Just like a plate of your favourite food, or a certain comedian that always earns your smile, Arcade Fire’s, The Suburbs, is an album I can turn to at a moment’s notice and feel immediately better for it.
It’s a multipurpose tool. I use it to wind away tedious train journeys, listen too whilst washing dishes, and perhaps most personally, reach for in those moments when I need to disappear and realign my soul to simpler times and safer places.
It’s an album that seeks out the gainful feelings of youth, conformity, falling in love, peer-pressure, friendship, and summer months that were spent outside – and once found, turns all those remarkable reflections back onto the listener, in the hope of finding some shared kinship. A recollected time to point too and completely own.
It certainly worked for me.
Throughout this album I’m taken back to one summer in particular in the early 1980’s.
Without going all Stand by Me on you all, I and a group of neighbourhood kids spent the better part of that entire summer building a camp within the forest my family home backed onto.
Passing through a gap in the wire fence, we all entered into a place that was away from any rule or parental order. You had freedom to take on shapes and guises, to explore not only your surroundings, but also who you were… and who you were to your friends.
These memories begin with the opening track. The steady movement of The Suburbs digs deep into the exploration of childhood antics and achingly familiar hopes. The entire feel of this song, and the faultless repetition of the hook, harks to visions of children running through their yards, hot pavement and cool grass, and the memories of hilarious screams and neighbourhood battles with those kids who lived on the other street.
These themes continue throughout – from the fast-paced, living in the moment, anthems such as Ready to Start and Empty Room, to the beautifully layered Suburban War and Deep Blue.
In fact, Suburban War is a real counterpoint, and bridges the middle section perfectly.
If the opening tracks take me immediately to those childhood memories, then Suburban War fills any gaps within my internal narrative. I can’t help but swallow a little deeper when I hear lines such as,
“And my old friends, we were so different then”, and “This time’s so strange. They built it to change. And while we’re sleeping all the streets, they rearrange.”
The truth is we were so different then. The world-weariness of adulthood was unknown, and the future was made up of long anticipated birthdays, the mischief of Halloween and Bonfire Night, and the hope of winter snow and Christmas presents too exciting to think about.
I don’t remember a single day away from our construction project in the forest. With that morning haze lifting away from the landscape of soft earth, snaring brambles and the huge, muddy-coloured trunks of the oaks, ferns and sycamores; the afternoon revealed high temperatures, higher times and spectral breezes that softened under the jungle canopy as if they were barely there.
The album continues with further interludes of real inspiration. We Used to Wait is a track that trembles with a relentless piano refrain, and an urgency to keep the story unfolding. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), is a siren song, and is perfectly encapsulated by the gorgeous Régine Chassagne.
Only with such a remarkable collection of musicians can Arcade Fire tell their tales.
And with the end reprise of The Suburbs (continued), I’m taken to that time when the light is fading all too fast. Around 8.30pm, and your surroundings take on new forms. What was once so familiar and native now looks strangely different and somehow threatening. And in the distance, the clarion call to go home becomes sickeningly imminent.
Trying to rush through one last game of cricket or football, one last battle between the Empire and the Rebellion, to steal one last kiss from the girl you’re sweet on – just before the pain of saying goodbye threatens to crush the feelings you’re struggling to fully understand.
This is the glory of The Suburbs, and on occasion, its curse. When listened too during a reflective mood, it becomes all too painful to revisit those past times. And as one gets older, it’s harder to stem the onset of a few tears.
For the more sensitive of us, the aging process is not without these times of fragile inflection and reassuring smiles of joyous reminiscence. However, no matter how hard you try to keep a tight grip on that lingering memory; they always seem to trickle away and are swiftly replaced with the here and now.
For my part, this album has created new memories. The album’s release in 2010 was only a few months after the birth of my son, and shaped many a sleepless night. Rocking him to contentment, and all the while accompanied by songs such as Half Light I and Wasted Hours.
Thankfully, albums such as The Suburbs help retain those memories, and capture something no camera could hope to achieve. This album makes you long for youth, with a realization that it passes all too quickly, and once gone, can never be returned too. As Win Butler hauntingly whispers to us,
“If I could have it back.
All the time we spent wasted.
I would only waste it again.
You know I would love to waste it again.”
Paul Millard 2014