Retrospective | If I Could Have It Back… The Suburbs at 10

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again

If there’s one album that will forever define the end of my teenage years, and in many ways the beginning of adulthood, it’s The Suburbs. Arcade Fire’s sprawling, sublime third record was a watershed moment for indie rock—an album so caught up in the past, it unwittingly redefined the future of countless contemporaries and an entire generation of alternative musicians. But that’s not what I want to talk about here—it’s been said countless times of late and rightly so.

As era-defining as it was for the music landscape it has quietly yet assuredly influenced over the past decade, The Suburbs was, and still is, as definitive for me on a personal level. It’s a time and place in my life, memories of a summer ten years ago that marked the end of my teenage years, with the sweetest possible swansong to play them out.

We run through the streets
That we know so well
And the houses hide so much
We’re in the half light
None of us can tell

The Suburbs came out on August 2nd, 2010. I had just finished my first year of university and proceeded to drop out of said university. I was working my first real job in the local cinema and spending the summer the way any nineteen-year-old should. In the park by day, house parties or out in town by night, at concerts and festivals on the weekends and, most importantly, with friends the entire time.


I was converted to Arcade Fire early. Funeral remains one of my all time top five albums and it shaped the way that fourteen-year-old me would think about music from the exact moment I heard the violin solo play out ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ on a friend’s MP3 player during a free class in my second year of secondary school. Needless to say, The Suburbs was always going to soundtrack my summer. I just didn’t know how appropriate that would prove to be.

2009, 2010 wanna make a record how I felt then

The Suburbs so perfectly fit that moment in my life, even though I didn’t totally know it at the time. It dealt with themes of misspent youth, the comforting shell of suburban existence, the loss of innocence and childhood, and the blissful whiling away of summer days and nights. These were all things I was experiencing in real time, set to the sounds of ‘Wasted Hours’, ‘Half Light’, ‘City With No Children’ and ‘We Used To Wait’, without truly comprehending that I was living the album as I listened to it in the first few weeks of its being.

These kinds of rose-tinted recollections of teenage summers are like lightning in a bottle—impossible to capture and never to be relived, but in actual fact Win, Regine and the band’s attempt to catch those feelings and set them to music wasn’t in vain, it was quite the opposite, a rare example of transportive art that can still displace you when revisited.

Arcade Fire created a record that, perhaps more deeply than anything I’ve heard before or since, connects me to a time in my life that I was blissfully unaware was worth remembering until it was gone. The sweet ache of nostalgia still washes over me every time I hear the clanging opening guitar of ‘Ready to Start’, ‘Rococo”s lullaby-esque refrain and hypnotic strings, Win’s joyful declaration that’s he’s ”gonna make a record” in the ‘Month of May’, or the devastating eulogy to friendship that he mournfully delivers on the back half of ‘Suburban War’.

All my old friends they don’t know me now
All my old friends are staring through me now

The smell of summer nights is buried deep within the precious seconds between ‘Sprawl I’ and ‘Sprawl II’. What more can I even say about that spectacular, singular electronic anthem? The transcendent indietronica master ballad stands as quite possibly the crowning achievement of one of the bands of the 21st century. It’s a song for artists, musicians, writers, and dreamers the world over.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface
‘Cause on the suburbs the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind

Ten years on, it’s hard to express what The Suburbs means to me. It’s an album that speaks to me on a deeper level than perhaps I was even aware until its anniversary crept up on me and I realized it had somehow already been ten years since I used to walk to work with ‘Modern Man’ on a loop on my iPod Classic. I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to August 2010 any time I press play and return to that vividly etched hour and four minutes, between the bombastic piano chord and cymbal crash of the opening title track and its painfully poignant twin closer—an all too brief, heavenly ode to the indescribably elusive wonder of those younger years.

Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling

The past few weeks I’ve been walking around the same streets I spent that summer walking through with The Suburbs as my constant companion, revisiting the record like an old friend, checking to see if it still knows me now. Curiously, the album has not only retained its magic but it casts a stronger spell now than it did anytime in the last ten years. That’s the enduring mark of a masterpiece. More than that, it’s the unforgettable knowledge of a time that only music and memory can take me now, specifically the music of The Suburbs—a love letter to our younger selves and the places we were raised. And I’ll never move past the feeling.

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