We move on to another of the multi-part movements of The Suburbs. As we will see, the Half Light songs are an interesting pair: the first seems to be generally joyous, while the second is much bleaker and gloomier (the opposite will be true in the case of the Sprawl duo).
You told us that we were too young
Now the night’s closing in and in the half light, we run
What they were too young for, I don’t know—something to do with the over-sheltering of youth in the ’burbs?—but we know what Night means on this album, and if it’s closing in, then the Wild is calling.
It’s funny how this song uses its title phrase many times, while the second movement only uses it once. Which begs the question: what is the Half Light? Is it simply the magical hour of twilight for these Millennial kids? Is it the sun hidden behind nuclear fallout (if one places this song in the grand scheme of the Arcade Fire’s works—and especially in the “Half Light movement”—it’s plausible) or the smoke of burning cities? Is it the nostalgic filter through which today’s Millennials will remember the present in years to come? Is it purely symbolic of the Wild of Night overtaking the civilized Day? It might be all of the above, but the band did choose this artist’s design (titled The Half Light) to put on their t-shirts, if you need a visual:
Lock us up safe, and hide the key,
But the night tears us loose and in the half light, we’re free
Yep, I’m pretty confident the first lines of these stanzas have a lot to do with the insulation from the real world that’s a big part of life in the suburbs—“the shared, sheltered culture of middle-class life”.
The kids have heard the call of the Wild in the Night, and freed of their constraints they can escape. I wonder if these kids are simply glad for the System’s collapse to the Wild, releasing them from the constraints of civilized ‘work’, the obligation to put on different masks (as in Empty Room), etc. Reminds me of a quote from Stewart Brand (of the Whole Earth Catalog):
“We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion—guilt-free at last!”
Strange how the half light can make a place new
You can’t recognize me and I can’t recognize you
Hey, nuclear fallout makes us look at everything differently. ?
We run through these streets that we know so well
And the houses hide so much and in the half light,
None of us can tell they hide the ocean in a shell.
Here we have yet another reference to connection to place—they know the roads of their neighborhoods because they were raised there in the suburbs (but they’re inevitably going to change—in Suburban War)
As for the lines about shells holding oceans, and heads and windows, I’d say it’s a poignant metaphor for when what’s inside is so much more than the container can hold.
We are not asleep, we are on the streets
The song ends with a crescendo of this anthemic refrain, which seems to depict the inverse of the kids of Empty Room and Sprawl II, kids whose lives are without purpose. Here in Half Light I, we have youth—constrained though they may be by their parents and surroundings—with purpose, almost a la the Occupy movement. They’re saying, “We’re not shiftless Millennials! We want more from life/the world, and we’re taking to the streets to get it!”
And the song ends with tense strings crossfading into…