Song of the Day #1,707: ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’ & ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire

suburbsThe emotional peak of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and its finest moment overall, comes with this two-part suite.

‘Sprawl I’ and ‘Sprawl II’ are very different musically — the former is a minimalist dirge while the latter is an expansive New Wave epic — but the overall tone is consistently melancholy.

Melancholy… that explains why I really dig this.

In part one, the narrator seeks out his childhood home, but can’t read the numbers in the dark (how telling that the houses are similar enough that he’d need to see the number to know he was in the right place).

He flashes back to a night out with his friends when he was a kid, and an encounter with a police officer. His simple questions trigger existential responses.

‘Sprawl II’ seems to find the singer (this time a woman) a bit later in life. She has a job that values conformity and she realizes that the suburban sprawl of her youth just keeps on going… “sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small that we can never get away from the sprawl.”

As in a couple of other songs on the back half of the album, she longs for the darkness (or perhaps the half light described in the other two-part song on the album).

Apart from a brief coda that makes up the album’s final track (and my final post on this record… cue Dana’s applause), this is the culminating track. It is telling that we don’t get a sense of finality, but just that anguished cry for a return to darkness in the face of the unending sprawl.

Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the house where we used to stay
I couldn’t read the number in the dark
You said “let’s save it for another day”
I took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me, but I’m still far away

Let’s take a drive through the sprawl
Through these towns they built to change
And then you said “The emotions are dead”
It’s no wonder that you feel so estranged

The cops shone their lights
On the reflectors of our bikes
Said “Do you kids know what time it is?”
Well, sir, it’s the first time I felt like something is mine
Like I have something to give

The last defender of the sprawl
Said “Well, where do you kids live?”
Well, sir, if you only knew what the answer’s worth
Been searching every corner of the earth…

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 surface the city lights shine,
They’re calling at me, “come and find your kind.”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
That we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.

We rode our bikes to the nearest park,
Sat under the swings, we kissed in the dark,
We shield our eyes from the police lights,
We run away, but we don’t know why,
And like a mirror these city lights shine,
They’re screaming at us, “we don’t need your kind.”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
That we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
Can we ever get away from the sprawl?
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,707: ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’ & ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire

  1. Dana says:

    I think my sister’s comment a few tracks back deserves repeating:

    Meh!

  2. Amy says:

    I have been asked to weigh in here. One guess who is doing the asking :) The thing is – I don’t have much to say. I can understand why you (and all those besotted critics) appreciate this band. Their music just doesn’t get under my skin or capture my imagination in any way that would make me want to devote more time to listening to it.

    For starters, melancholy (at least in music, and, likely, period) is not my thing. I don’t want to spend time listening to others wallow.

    More important, at this point in my life, I have enough music I love to never want for another find to fill my too few music listening moments. Therefore, for me to add to that collection, the artist/song has to grab me immediately. The most recent group to do so is Mumford and Sons. Halfway through their second performance on the Grammys, I knew I wanted that album and to spend time listening to that group. The few days I’ve attempted to get involved in this Arcade Fire love fest/discussion, I have felt, well, Andie may have captured it most effectively… meh. Not inspired.

    Still, 2/3 of the way through today’s “sprawl,” I do understand – on an intellectual level – why the band warrants admiration. I just don’t want to listen to them.

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