I am the Omega Man. I am Legend. I am the only man on earth who doesn’t think Arcade Fire’s new record is the pinnacle of the evolution of popular music. In fact, I need to stand on a six-foot stepladder just to keep my head above the effusive foam rolling out of the dropped-jaw mouths of rabid fans.
For the record, I do not think “The Suburbs” is bad music. It’s good. But is it great? Will it still be memorable in ten years? Or even ten months? Is Arcade Fire’s music comparable to a comet coming from another solar system to shed a kind of light we’ve never seen before? Or is it more like an ordinary flashlight that simply shows us how dark things usually are?
I’d go with the latter, and this is a role that I consider honorable. But let’s be clear that it is the abyss-like darkness that surrounds Arcade Fire which makes their illumination so brilliant, not the light itself. Bands like them have come before and they will come again, producing albums of “Suburbs” caliber as well.
Of course, since it feels like the music that is all around us, the music most accessible and prevalent, is as dim as a forest unlit by the moon, a musical flashlight emerging from the darkness feels like the most wonderful and hopeful light we’ve ever seen.
Take, for example, Arcade Fire’s new ballyhooed “interactive” music video for the track “We Used to Wait” – a video I find to be a collection of neat tricks that ultimately don’t leave me wondering “how in the world did they do that,” like the awesome sci-fi pictures of old. Rather I find myself asking, “how sad will it be in ten years when we look back and remember that at one time we thought this was the most brilliant thing we could do with the web?”
Wow, look! Google satellite and street view are spinning!! Ooooh, moving pop-up windows!!! Holy crap, it harkens back to animated gifs! So what that it’s my neighborhood as seen in low resolution and in two-dimensions? Does that make this video the most remarkable thing ever? Or is it that in a webiverse of garbage sites and trashy ads, this looks like Michelangelo?
Here again, don’t get me wrong. I liked the video. I was impressed by the ingenuity of the designer/coder. But I’m not ready to call this sliced bread as so many have. It’s as though we are so starved for interesting cultural artifacts that as soon as we see a flashlight, we run around screaming, “the light of salvation has come!”
I’m really not trying to be a naysayer for naysayering’s sake. I just wish that we could appreciate things for what they are and put away the hyperbole. That video wasn’t the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. And Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” isn’t the most amazing record you’ve ever heard.
If, rather than look all around us for the closest light we can find, we looked up through the trees to see the heavenly realms. Stars too luminous to describe wait for us to look long enough to see them. They wait for us to look past the nearness of things and upward to discover whole worlds we’d never imagined. It takes patience. It takes a sense of wonder and adventure – a desire to discover something harder to see than the nearest flashlight, and with a much richer reward.
Perhaps many will look up and find Arcade Fire among the constellations. And if you do, you will see hosts of other musicians alongside them - equally compelling – each one engaged in a dance with the other, for such is the interconnectivity of good art, the kind of art that time remembers.
Have we found that in Arcade Fire? Only the time and the stars will tell.
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