The Suburbs

Si Sauvage

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More than 25 years after they last made a studio album, it's a different world for the Suburbs. Guitarist Bruce Allen died in 2009, bassist Michael Halliday is out of the band due to health issues, and lead singer and keyboard man Chan Poling is a widower following the death of his wife in 2011. Even without the shadow of loss falling over the Suburbs, many of the songs on the band's reunion effort, Si Sauvage, seem to speak of age and a grim variety of nostalgia -- at a time when radio isn't the cultural presence it used to be, "Turn the Radio On" seems even more bittersweet than intended, and "Reset the Party" suggests the revelers know they don't have as much time to waste. No wonder Poling sounds like he envies the "Dumb Ass Kids" who may be an earlier version of himself, "Smoking dope and chasing tail/Living in a fairy tale." It doesn't take long for Si Sauvage to announce itself as an album the Suburbs couldn't and wouldn't have made in the '80s, but if this is an older and battle-weary version of the Suburbs, it still sounds and feels like them. Poling's vocals still sound like a smart-aleck Midwestern version of Bryan Ferry (and his piano work is both graceful and cutting), Blaine John Chaney's fractured guitar and angular vocals are still the ideal yang to Poling's yin, Hugo Klaers still plays the drums with a crisp, incisive attack that fuses rock action with dance rhythms, and new guys Stevie Brantseg on guitars and Steve Price on bass fill their spaces with skill and the right attitude. "Born Under a Good Sign" and "Where It Is" show the Suburbs are still out to get a party started (while smirking at the other dancers, as always). The title cut is a darkly witty celebration of the joys of bad decisions. And "This Monkey" could be the 21st century version of Credit in Heaven's "Girlfriend," a love song that's twisted and entirely sincere at the same time, and all the more powerful for its eccentricities. One can hear the sad losses of the past decade in "What's It Like Out There?" and "I Liked It Better When You Loved Me," but the Suburbs aren't the first bunch of smart guys who turned out to have a heart after all. Si Sauvage is an album about acknowledging life's lessons without regrets, and finding both sorrow and joy in the process; it's the middle-aged response to the band's best album, 1984's Love Is the Law, and a work that gains depth and power with each listen.

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