Now that Arcade Fire have conquered the world with their highly effective brand of overwrought but powerful music, we can spare them one indulgence. With The Suburbs they were able to boast an unexpected Grammy win for best album, having made it to number one in seven countries and ranked highly on pretty much every end-of-year-critics-list out there. This indulgence has come in the form of Scenes From The Suburbs, a Spike Jonze directed short film written by Jonze along with Will & Win Butler that was briefly available on the streaming website MUBI last week in order to advertise the deluxe edition release of The Suburbs, on which it will also appear.
With a slight plot taking place over one summer, following a group of youths living in a dystopian near-future in which ‘Towns would attack each other if a golf course was built too near to a border,’ Scenes treads the same thematic water as the album upon which it is based, ideas of a longing to revisit the past, a sad air of regret juxtaposing the glorious sounds and images.
Beginning with the strings of The Suburbs (Continued) underlining a Malickian voice over and trembling, drawn out shots from Jonze’s trademark handheld cameras, five youths stand on a hilltop, silently taking in the expanse of the suburbs in which they live. This is a slightly clichéd image but a stirring, appropriate one regardless. It sets the tone for Scenes; a short film with moving moments dampened by a bitter edge, the pure unoriginality of the piece cheapening the sentiment.
But this is almost in keeping with The Suburbs itself. For the visceral beauty of tunes like Ready to Start and We Used to Wait, painful filler Deep Blue and Wasted Hours slowed down the pace of what was already a much longer and more ambitious album than anything Arcade Fire had attempted previously.
This ambition was effective though in a way that Scenes is not. The album did not just look back and compare the then and now, it criticises choices made, the choices people still make. Scenes is far simpler, it aims to conjure nostalgia and point out the way that memory will cut and change events to make them kinder. In some ways it is actually more similar in tone to last year’s Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter’s ode to the fragility of memory. The lack of depth in the short film is unavoidable though, and Scenes exists to compliment The Suburbs, not better it.
Really the piece is exactly what it is: A nice Easter egg for fans. It’s a pity that the Jonze name raises expectations quite so much. His howling error though? The exclusion of Sprawl II on the soundtrack. The only universally loved tune on the record could have at least made the end credits.