Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Us Kids Know

August 17, 2010

Arcade Fire has struck gold again with The Suburbs, yet another orchestral, majestic, epic album.  Complete with their lovely Bowiesque conceit, ample leitmotifs, and a simplicity that is both unnerving and enviable.  The songs are somehow simultaneously high-tempo and sober, with lyrics that are revealed clearly and methodically:

You never trust a millionaire
Quoting the sermon on the mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I’m beginning to have my doubts
My doubts about it

Listening to this third album, I’m finally realizing that this is an 80s band.   Or more exactly, a band for those who came of age in the 80s.  Or more precisely still, a band for those who tried to come of age in the 80s, but who never quite completed the deal.  We see this in the recurring theme of ‘the kids’: mythic characters who are preternaturally insightful and who hang around this album like adolescents at a mall.  In song after song, we hear scenes setting ‘the kids’ in flashbacks from childhood.  Yet in these remembrances, they offer uncharacteristically mature insights, retorts, and observations.  They are wise beyond their years.  They are anachronisms.

Until we realize that these aren’t kids in those flashbacks, but adults inhabiting the psyches of the kids.  For there is always a part of us that we can never quite leave behind, an ‘us’ that is never truly mature and is forever carrying the burdens of childhood.  So that when reliving our formative experiences with the benefit of hindsight, we are forever inserting pithy insights, snappy comebacks, and greater wisdom.

The great gift of Arcade Fire is that they remind us what it was like to be in school, so that we can console the kid we used to be (and still are).  To indwell that age of knowing and not knowing.  Of straining for independence while taking shelter in our parents’ shadow.  Of trying to be iconoclastic with a whole bunch of other people.  So that we can face the intimidating authorities of that day with the insights we have today.  So that the new ‘us’ can shore up the insecurities of the old ‘us’.  So that we can say, “I can’t believe I ever cared about that stuff!” and truly mean it.

All the kids have always known
That the emperor wears no clothes
But they bow to down to him anyway
‘Cause it’s better than being alone

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