Arcade Fire – Introductory Page

Arcade Fire

Reviews:

 

[A dramatic, deep bass drone plays. Shots of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Caine staring at things in the distance and furrowing their brows appear intermittently and cut to black].

IN A WORLD bitterly divided between mainstream and underground rock music, there can be only one salvation… THE INDIE ARENA BAND…

…These legendary titans—R.E.M., the Cure, the Strokes—once roamed the earth in a mythical era known as the 1990s, uniting sniveling record store nerds and people who think the Prudential Center is a cool place to see a concert alike. But their reign has long since ended, leaving the public vulnerable to grating bubblegum pop and geriatric bands from the 60s embarking on their eighteenth greatest hits tours…

…UNTIL…

One band emerges from the abyss to save a people lost long ago to corporate assembly line garbage; to bring them, you know, maybe not the most groundbreaking or exciting shit that Merge Records has ever put out, but at least it’s kind of offbeat and bothers to string together coherent lyrical themes, and even if you didn’t love it, isn’t it still pretty cool that something like The Suburbs won the Grammy for Best Album instead of Justin Bieber or something? Ahem… I mean…

…That band is called…

ARCADE FIRE.

*INCEPTION NOISE*

Yes indeed, ever since this collective of artsy Montrealite college dweebs managed to sell more than 40 copies of The Suburbs (I assume that’s all it takes to reach number 1 these days), they have been looked to as indie rock’s latest standard bearers. And even though the Pitchfork crowd has been creaming themselves over the band since 2004, and even though I was unexpectedly blown away by The Suburbs when it came out back in 2010 (more on that to come), it still kind of baffles me that they ever made it to the level they have. Just take the three older bands I mentioned in my epic Christopher Nolan movie trailer up there – they’re all weird compared to, say, Billy Ray Cyrus, but it’s easy to grasp why they achieved mainstream success when their alt-rock peers didn’t. R.E.M. had peppy folk rock tunes and Michael Stipe’s shiny bald head; the Cure appealed to fans of the movie Edward Scissorhands; and the Strokes oozed New York cool and had rich parents.

So what exactly is so special about Arcade Fire—a band lacking anything resembling a distinctive instrumentalist, much less a particularly original sound—that has allowed them to pull themselves up from their humble beginnings at Concordia University to become the kind of band that sells out Madison Square Garden? That’s a question that still puzzles me a bit. But their original rise to prominence in the mid-2000s is much less of a challenge to elucidate. From the time the band formed in the early 2000s to their rise a couple of years later as legitimate touring act, they expanded from a trio of frontman Win Butler, French-Canadian (of Haitian descent) chanteuse Regine Chassagne (who is now Butler’s wife), and Butler’s high school buddy Josh Deu to a lineup of roughly 189 revolving door multi-instrumentalists. They began building a reputation for ultra-energetic live shows involving the band members jumping around and hitting each other with baseball bats and stuff like that. This buzz was quickly augmented by the band’s debut album, Funeral, in 2004, which was immediately fellated by every critic in the universe—not to mention David Bowie—as the greatest frigging album in the history of the universe. Only six years later, they transcended indie savior status and broke through to a mainstream audience with their third album, The Suburbs, an earnestly affecting exploration of nostalgia, boredom, and yearning in the modern era. Their commercial success has continued with 2013’s eletronic-tinged Reflektor.

So, do they deserve all the acclaim and success? Well, speaking as someone who though he hated them back before hating them was cool, and who now kind of likes them well after the inevitable “they sold out, maaaan! I never liked them anyway!” backlash has begun, I’d say yes and no. Yes because they’ve written quite a few really good songs and they don’t deserve a lot of the shit they get for being “pretentious.” Yes, they sing about ponderous topics like death, alienation, and bad internet connections. But I’ve seen Win Butler on TV a few times, and for a guy who was raised Mormon in Texas and is about nine feet tall, he comes across as pretty funny, if a bit awkward. He’s got his issues, though. For instance, he’s the kind of ultra-intense dick who has arguments with fellow band members on stage and completely loses his shit over pickup basketball at the Y. And his voice, a froggy warble that sounds like Roy Orbison singing with a severe case of the flu, took me a while to get used to. But I think people are mistaking ambition and taking his craft seriously for pretension. Just because he’s been trying to write songs that wouldn’t sound out of place with a stadium full of people singing along ever since the beloved “Wake Up” on Funeral doesn’t mean he sits around thinking about what a genius he is all the time. If ya axe me, it’s the bands who act like they’re too cool to go big that are the pretentious ones.

Unfortunately, the ambition that lets Arcade Fire do really special things every now and again is the same that causes them to get carried away and lose track of their quality control sometimes. Even The Suburbs could have maybe done with some trimming of the superfluous stuff that seemed like it was included more to serve the concept than, you know, the overall goodness of the album. Brevity is not this band’s strong suit. But they never claimed it was.



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