Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs"
Near the end of "The Suburbs," Arcade Fire offers a pair of songs called "Sprawl I" and "Sprawl II," both of which tell you plenty about what this Canadian rock outfit thinks of the place its third studio album is named after. But those titles also do a pretty good job of describing the musical reach of "The Suburbs." At 16 tracks, this dense, complicated set covers considerably more stylistic territory than either of the band's previous albums, from the jangly folk-rock of the opening title cut to the string-backed punk of "Empty Room" to "Half Light II (No Celebration)," which recalls the synthed-up Berlin-era work of David Bowie. Lyrically, frontman Win Butler and his wife, vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, reflect that wide focus with words about doubt and ambivalence and reconsideration; few groups with Arcade Fire's taste for the anthemic come across as uninterested in sloganeering as this one does. That doesn't mean these songs don't sweep you up-just that they don't always make it clear where they're taking you.