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Arcade Fire’s creative director, Win Butler, spent his developmental years in a suburb of Houston. Now he’s 30, and for the Montreal group’s third record, Butler employs those memories as a totem for his band’s conceptual M.O. The irony is that The Suburbs, a work about America’s colorless culture as told through tales of sanitized suburban adolescence, is Arcade Fire’s least imaginative record. Somewhere between the celebrated landing of its debut, the smashed guitar on Saturday Night Live, the Obama fundraisers, the breathtaking trailer for Where the Wild Things Are, and the charitable Super Bowl ad, Arcade Fire cemented its reputation as one of our most important bands. The group can now nearly fill arenas with its expansive, melodramatic, soul-saving baroque pop and its sweaty, swelling catharsis. Funeral, the 2004 album about loss and community, was every bit as vital as perpetually advertised. Neon Bible arrived in 2007 after the midterm-election backlash, so its referendum on institutions was passé, but the songwriting soared. But listening to Régine Chassagne dramatize a lonely drive through vast sprawl like it’s an apocalyptic nightmare loses something when the Red Line is tardy, crammed, and lacks air conditioning. Not unlike Butler’s suburbs, urban centers on the East Coast can feel exhausting. Not having a car and spending an hour commuting five miles is rarely fun. Cities combine culture and industry with pollution, isolation, and old, unsettling wealth. At least you don’t get that in Texas. There are sleazeball millionaires, sure, but Jerry Jones builds big football stadiums and chases fake blondes. It makes sense, goddammit. On The Suburbs, songs are propped up by recurring bits about children, windows, night skies, echoes, and consumerism that recall stock plots of pop-cultural touchstones. “Modern Man” churns with the backyard-pool existentialism of The Graduate. “Rococo” fears the rebellious, vacuous hipsters of Fahrenheit 451 and tucks boring words behind a high-brow title you have to look up. Lyrics falter with close reading: Take “I had a dream I was dreaming/and I feel I’m losing the feeling/makes me feel like, like something don’t feel right,” or “The kids want to be so hard/but in my dreams we’re running and screaming through the yard.” Is that the preeminent songwriter of our generation, or Trent from Daria? The best moments materialize when Butler brings back the mournful romanticism that could beget tears of joy during Funeral’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” Combing through childhood artifacts, the “Half Life” suite is plastered with pretty strings and searches for meaning back home. “Ready to Start” sounds like the summer everyone left and a love went stale. “We Used to Wait” is interesting, because it’s blatantly nostalgic for the simple suburban youth embedded in an era Butler spends the other 15 tracks denouncing. How much The Suburbs strikes you depends on your weighing of the abundant melodies and detailed orchestration against the stretching theme and reaching lyrics. Perhaps relocated professionals will identify with the moods and feel vindicated by manifestos of entitlement like, “On the black river, the city lights shine/They’re screaming at us: we need your kind.” But what of Butler’s ’burb, The Woodlands in Texas? It’s a monstrous zone that’s doubled in population since the 2000 census, burgeoning with corporate campuses; it’s 90 percent white and full of comfortable, new money. After high school, isolated, creative types have the means to soul-search three hours west along US-290 in Austin. But I don’t see what the big deal is.