The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire defined the sound of the 2000’s better than any other band. Starting with their genius debut Funeral, their sound was emotional and orchestrated, but the bombast was contained within the context of the rock music song format. Husband and wife team of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne lead the band, and their dual female and male vocals are beautiful to behold. Each album opened a new facet of the groups sound, which took plenty from the post-punk movement of the 1980’s and combined it with the deep emotional rock of the 1990’s. There are about 10 core members to the group, further expanding on the template given since the beginning of rock, incorporation an orchestra to make the music grander and more laborious. The potential is endless with the group, and each album is an event of sorts.
Win Butler – Vocals, Guitar
Regine Chassagne – Vocals, Accordion
Wil Butler – Synthesizer, Percussion
Tim Kingsbury – Bass
Richard Perry – Organ
Howard Billerman – Drums
Sarah Newfeld & Owen Pallett – Violin
Michael Olsen – Cello
Pietro Amato – Horn
Anita Fust – Harp
Talking Heads, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bruce Springsteen, Roxy Music, Fugazi, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Abba
Funeral – (5 / 5)+
You know, it is a rare thing when an ambitious album actually achieves its ambitions. Usually the album is too long, or some of the songs are too much style and not enough substance. Sometimes there is just something about an album that draws you to it. Reading about Funeral, the Arcade Fire’s debut album, I had a feeling it would be my favorite of the year. I don’t know why, I had only heard one song and some sound clips, but I had a feeling. Turns out, I was right. Not only is the album a perfect rock album, but it has a very influential sound that will carry over well over the next couple of decades. At a manageable length of 48 minutes and songs numbering ten, this album is perfect in every respect. To describe the sound might be something like Echo and the Bunnymen meets Roxy Music + an orchestra and angelic chorus at times.
This is all the above and then some! The songs are journeys surveying death and life, in that order usually. To pick a favorite song is hard, because the album is so cohesive: “Neighborhood # 2”, “Wake Up”, and “Rebellion (lies)” are the most likeable at first, but the other seven songs are all equally as good when absorbed. You haven’t lived until you have surveyed the war-torn landscape of “Neighborhood # 3”, felt the French spoken beauty of “Une Annee Sans Lumiere” and the Caribbean marimbas of “Haiti”, and heard the life altering words of “Wake Up” and “Neighborhood # 4”. The first song, “Neighborhood # 1”, may sum it all up best: “you change all the lead/ sleeping in my head to gold/ as the day grows dim/ I hear you sing a golden hymn”. Also “Sometimes we remember our bedrooms/ and our parent’s bedroom’s/ and the bedrooms of our friends/ then we think of our parents/ well whatever happened to them?” I could quote all day from it, the lyrics are the kind that make no sense/ make perfect sense. “Crown of Love” is a moving waltz that morphs into a post-disco rave up, backed by pulsating strings and soulful vocals. There is a perfect closer too, with “In the Backseat” sung with extreme passion by Regine Chassagne; a song that must be heard to be fully experienced.
Two of the finest songs ever done are present here. “Wake Up” is an anthem to end all anthems, with its rebellious lyrics and gospel chorus, not to mention danceable ending (several songs on here do this). “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” is the only true hard rock song on the album, but one of the best ever made, and ever so unique sounding (the live performance of it on SNL is one for the ages). This is an album that requires repeated listening, but I feel dumb saying that because ALL good albums are that way. The album is very subdued and subtle though, full of emotion yet it doesn’t force that emotion on you. The many strings and orchestral arrangements help this factor. It describes a longing every person feels, to get out there and make a difference. A unique sound in 2004, quite possibly the best debut album ever made, and a hope for all of rock music. Someday I’ll write a five page review of it, I could talk for days about what I love about Funeral.
Greatest Songs: Neighborhood #2 (Laika), Wake Up, Haiti, Rebellion, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out). Crown of Love
Neon Bible – (5 / 5)
What a shifting, emotional work this is. A dark mood shines on The Arcade Fire’s second album, and the songs that exemplify this mood are the best ones. The other type of song on here is the lighter and more upbeat pop song. Yet, whichever of these two song types exist on this record, the lyrics shine though most of all. Butler writes lyrics up to the standards of his idols, be they Robert Smith, Morrissey, Ian McCulloch, or most obviously Bruce Springsteen. “Antichrist Television Blues” and “Windowsill” are welcome surprises of The Boss’ influence, though the latter works way better; “Intervention” plays like a leftover from the previous album, but fits this album because the lyrical content is more consistent with these kind of “after the bombs dropped” atmosphere; “Black Mirror” and the moody “Ocean of Noise” simply stand up as two all-time classics of rock music. The on/off and pop/dreary juxtaposition is best exemplified on one song, “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” which is of course, half of each; sung by Chassagne and Butler and proving a certain kind of schizophrenic accomplishment in spades.
Any band that can match these lyrics: “Who here among us still believes in choice, not I”, “MTV what have you done to me? Saved my soul, set me free” (ah to think it once did that!), “my body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love though my mind holds the key” to music of equal effect is truly a one in a million kind of band. If I had a minor quibble, I do think the darker ballads work better and songs like “Keep the Car Running” and “No Cars Go” kind of distract from the overall atmosphere, but then again they are still pretty good songs. This is hardly “indie rock” nor does it fit any kind of music label; it transcends all clichés. Fame did not hinder Arcade Fire after Funeral and they did the right thing: they waited out and built up another strong work of art. This is the template ladies and gents, the kind of music we all wish we could make.
Greatest Songs: Ocean of Noise, Windowsil, Intervention, Black Mirror
The Suburbs – (4 / 5)
The 3rd Arcade Fire album is an interesting attempt by the band to branch out. This is obvious by the: upbeat attitude, catchy refrains, double album length, laid back sound thrown into a lot of the songs (i.e. many “la la la choruses”). The first couple of songs are very rousing and interesting, with the shocking “The Suburbs” leading the charge (piano intro!). After that, “Ready to Start”, “Modern Man”, and “Empty Room” are what we expect from Arcade Fire: chugging, poetic anthems. The martial chorale “Rococo”, “City with No Children” and “Half Light One”, musically are highlights, and are very mesmerizing and fulfilling.
After the first seven songs, the record is more of a challenge. Butler seems to try and fit in his “suburban theme” of teenage angst into every song and it never quite works as a concept album. If the music was better, more songs might have worked, but they try to rely on too many old fashioned tricks to build an album: rockabilly in “Month of May”, OK Computer’s atmosphere in “Sprawl One: Flatland”, and the synths of “Mountains Beyond” that are fun but kinda cheesy. It actually gets on my nerves now when Butler sings about “our current times”, which is something I thought I would never say, as his singing can often come across as pedantic. This band’s views on white picket fences, cell phones, indie kids at shows, and modern anything are hardly profound, which was not true about past albums! Funeral is one of my favorite albums ever, and Neon Bible is pretty great on its own, but this is a significant step sideways for me.
Still there is plenty to love, as “Wasted Hours” is the quintessential song of the record (maybe it should have been the closer), and it proves the second half is not a complete waste along with the gorgeous “We used to Wait”, the final great song on here. Those two songs get everything right again: great music with moving lyrics and overall emotion to drive the songs on! The record has some clunkers, but overall is a rewarding experience and a good, but not great, album. It won the famous ‘best album of the year’ Grammy for year 2010 and brought much more mainstream recognition to the group which they rightly deserved. It slightly fails the way many double albums do: it simply should have been several songs shorter.
Greatest Songs: Rococo, We Used to Wait, Modern Man, Wasted Hours
Reflektor – (2 / 5)
This album was a huge letdown by one of my favorite bands. The first side is a bad try at disco pop via self-examining lyrics, second side is just overlong and repetitive to the point of exhaustion. If you really listen to this album, all the way through, there is no way you will not be bored. From most bands this is normal but I expected more out of Arcade Fire. They made Funeral, easily one of the best debut albums of all time, and Neon Bible and Suburbs were also great and challenging in their own way. They seem to do a lot better when the albums are SHORTER not longer. Maybe the next album will see them out of this slump. Only songs I thought were great were
Greatest Songs: “Flashbulb Eyes”, “It’s Never Over”