It would be silly to compare the complexity of Arcade Fire, Montreal's indie It Band, with a Disney Channel kidcom about a sassy girl wizard, but let's do it anyway: On the popular Wizards of Waverly Place, authority-thwarting teen Alex is often sent to the office of her rotund, goofy but ultimately savvy school principal. This isn't great theater, and yet, there's something refreshing, startling even, about their relationship, a safe, sweet pursuit of common ground at a time when the divide seems canyonesque. Grownups still aren't hip, but they're not bad, either. Gone are the doltish adults from the Breakfast Club '80s and Nirvana '90s; enter 21st century understanding in unlikely places.
Now, here's that notion on a much bigger scale: Led by the husband-wife team of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the seven-piece Arcade Fire entered our consciousness with two conceptually tricky albums: 2004's Funeral and 2007's Neon Bible. Their new record, The Suburbs, out on Tuesday, is even more ambitious: It explores the mundaneness, the Sprawl (as in: "Living in the Sprawl / Dead shopping malls / Rise like mountains beyond mountains / And there's no end in sight") of growing up amid the cookie-cutter ranchers and monolithic box stores.
The album's greatest trick — besides blending futuristic burbles, lush layers of gauze and gorgeous harmonies — is the way it shifts perspective from the front of the minivan to the back, all ages trudging those same roads. As Butler sings on Wasted Hours, "All we see are kids on buses longing to be free" — then, at the song's pensive climax: "We're still kids on buses longing to be free."
It's easy to take shots at the populace, at the universal cattle drive, at the Applebee-ing of suburbia. But to explore our dull, fraught lives and still find epic, overwhelming moments is cause for celebration, for relief — and, to be honest, genuine tears. There may not be a lovelier, and more unsettling, album all year. And to think it's for old and young only heightens its beauty.
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A Daly Dose: ramblings and ranting on pop culture
Mellencamp's 'Better' days
Producer T Bone Burnett calls John Mellencamp's 25th album "haunted," and he might be right. No Better Than This, which arrives in stores on Tuesday, was recorded in three hallowed places: the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., one of the first black churches in North America; Sun Studios in Memphis, where Elvis hollered into history books; and the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where bluesman Robert Johnson recorded Stones in My Passway. But for all the talk of ghosts, this is one of Mellencamp's liveliest records, too, no chip on his famously surly shoulders. It was recorded in mono, on vintage equipment, for rustic charm; the songs catch and cook, especially the title track. If you want to weep, try out the wistfully weathered Thinking About You.
Katy Perry controls my brain
I'm still not crazy about California Gurls, the first single from Katy Perry's upcoming album Teenage Dream (Aug. 24). Oh, don't get me wrong, I sing every word of that fluffy bit of idiocy, mainly because Perry is a doe-eyed sorceress who controls our pop culture desires. That's no doubt the reason why I'm even more mesmerized by her second single, the title track from her new record. It has a vaguely '80s feel, the hooky embodiment of when Ralph Macchio goes looking for Elisabeth Shue in the water park arcade in The Karate Kid. To hear Teenage Dream, go to Pop Life online at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.
A playlist update!
In June, expectant mama Meaghan in St. Petersburg wrote to Pop Life requesting, of all things, a Delivery Room Playlist. We provided her with Push It by Salt-N-Pepa, I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones, and so on. And apparently, it worked! Meaghan and her hubby just welcomed into the world a 7-pound, 3-ounce baby girl. Huzzah! We might as well dedicate one more song: Isn't She Lovely? by Stevie Wonder.