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Arcade Kindling

Nicely timed to capitalize on the boom market for breezy fun in the month of August, Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, supplanted Eminem’s dreary Recovery on the top of the pop-music charts this week. The Arcade Fire album is the band’s most tuneful and bouncy—irresistible pop dressed up in the indie-music uniform of fiddles, accordion, and twang, the sonic equivalent of Ben Sherman shirts and thrift-store wingtips. Lyrically, The Suburbs has vaguely to do with entering adulthood without submitting to the conformity that the suburbs represent, simplistically, in the album. (Today, the actual issues in the suburbs are race and drugs, rather than conformity.) The music, with its gleeful, quasi-novelty-act mingling of musical traditions, actually honors a couple of specific traditions: those of the jug bands of the ’20s and the Western Swing groups of the ’40s and early ’50s. They all made August music, never august music.

Famous in the middle of the last century as “the King of Western Swing,” the bandleader Spade Cooley would have been 100 this year, had he not died from a heart attack in 1969 after giving a benefit performance for a police organization while on furlough from his prison term for beating his second wife to death. There will probably be no centennial tributes to Cooley, a nasty, murderous man who made infectious, life-affirming music. I feel guilty for loving songs of his like this one, “Miss Molly,” as I do. The clip is from “Rockin’ on the Range,” my favorite Western musical featuring the Three Stooges and a cowboy playing the harp. (The singer is Tex Williams, and the lap-steel guitarist is the great Joaquin Murphy.) I think it’s safe to assume that Miss Molly had more serious fun when Little Richard came along.