After a rather bombastic, portentous second album, "Neon Bible," indie-rock favorites Arcade Fire came back in force this year with the excellent "The Suburbs," a near-concept record that paired the band's usual apocalyptic themes with images from suburban life. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it's one of the strongest records of the year, and is likely to top a lot of critics' polls by the end of December.
Yet, despite the strong visual element to their albums and artwork, the band have had an uneasy relationship with the video elements to their work in the past. This time round, however, they've embraced it, working with Terry Gilliam on a webcast live show, and producing the extraordinary interactive video for the album's "We Used To Wait," one of the more interesting promotional gambits of the year (check it out here, if you haven't already -- although note, you'll need Google Chrome to make it work). And now, the band continue their dazzling run with "The Suburbs," a video directed by Spike Jonze that had been rumored since last spring.
The band's frontman Win Butler told Pitchfork in August that the clip was "a short film" rather than a video, "a science-fiction B-movie companion piece for the record. Basically we played Spike some music from the album and the first images that came to his mind had the same feeling as this idea for a science fiction film I had when I was younger. My brother and I and Spike wrote it together, which was really fun -- it was like total amateur hour. We shot it in Austin and a lot of kids are in the film, and it was great just hanging out with these 15-year-olds for a week."
The video finally debuted on the band's official site last night, and it's much as promised -- even if we'd say that the clip, set to the title track to the record, was as much a music video as short film. The clip follows a group of suburban teenagers, acting much as suburban teenagers do, against the background of a sinister, far-off war that comes closer and closer as the film goes on.
There are echoes of "Red Dawn" and Larry Clark's "Kids," but more importantly, real-world situations. This is easily the most political thing Jonze has ever made, and it's hard to watch the film without drawing parallels to, say, Northern Ireland, Rwanda and Bosnia. We've got to admit, we're a little underwhelmed on first watch -- it seems to be a little too on-the-nose in its reflections on the album's themes -- but as ever, it's beautifully shot and performed, and makes us as eager as ever to see something more substantial from the director, who hasn't yet announced a feature follow-up to his astonishing, "Where The Wild Things Are."