FROM THE SUBURBS, TO EVERYTHING NOW.
A personal reflection on the works of Arcade Fire.
Discussing what Arcade Fire’s best album is can a be a contentious topic. A lot of fans will argue that there is no going past the first two releases Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007). For me there has never been a second thought. For me it’s The Suburbs (2010). I still recall catching the film clip for the title track one Saturday morning on Rage sometime after its release and being completely enamoured by it. It was the first time I was hearing it, yet it still felt somehow nostalgic. Perhaps it was Win Butler’s wonderfully fragile melodies in the chorus, or simply the combination of the song and the Spike Jonze directed film clip. Whatever it was, it compelled me to go out and buy the album as soon as possible and listen to it from start to finish on repeat. But then I all but forgot about it.
A couple years later, as I was raiding my housemates record collection I stumbled across it again. I put it on simply as background music whilst I went about my day, but instead found myself stopping what I was doing and listening to it again, from start to finish. It may have been because I was listening to it on the glorious format of vinyl and through half decent speakers for the first time, but the album seemed new once again. I could hear every detail of the sublime instrumentation layering and the intricacies of Win’s vocals. The album still bought on a similar nostalgic feeling like I felt the first time I listened to it, but for appropriate reasons this time.
Soon after this serendipitous reunification, Arcade Fire announced their fourth album Reflektor (2013). To this day, I’m not sure if I have ever anticipated an album more. I vigilantly kept an eye out for any news or updates on the album leading up to its release. When the title track single was dropped, I was instantaneously hooked by the new direction the band was appearing to take and became even more intrigued by what the album would have to offer. Sadly, although perhaps to no surprise, when the album finally did come out I was left disappointed. It’s not to say I thought the album was bad, in fact, I was once again captivated by the bands ability to construct a song. Proving once more that they are masters of atmospheric and eclectic song writing, the album is assembled with purposeful production and refined instrumental ornamentation, with the core of the song always remaining tangible and present. The problem with this album was that I found that the familiarity in Win’s vocals and unmistakeable Arcade Fire sound made me want to listen to The Suburbs more than keep listening to this album.
With the fifth album Everything Now in circulation, I admittedly found my attentiveness in any new material the band had to release waning. However, I was interested as to how the band had progressed in the four years between albums. Everything Now keeps well within the realms of its anthemic predecessors, but the beneath the grandiose quality of the songs is a scarcity of any real depth. The songs seem more of a pastiche then something unto its own and the album quickly becomes background noise as it loses traction after the first few songs. The musicality and vocals in these songs don’t demand the listeners’ attention the way the albums before it did. Despite a few exceptions, such as the fourth track ‘Creature Comfort’, the album overall seems to lack any real substance. Despite this Everything Now is still undeniably an Arcade Fire album and perhaps that is the reason it is so easy to critique. It contains all the makings of a great album and only in its comparison to its predecessors does it fall short.
Perhaps when it comes to a person’s favourite album, it is largely dependent on when the person discovered that album. When I discovered The Suburbs it seemed to accompany that time in my life perfectly and for whatever reason I hung on every word. I was maturing musically past songs that just had ‘cool riffs’ in them and appreciated the rich instrumentation and song writing of the album in a way i hadn’t for any other album before-hand. The album for me was, and still is, a journey that I enjoy every single time I listen to it and whenever I hear that initial crash cymbal and piano I know I am set to enjoy the journey all over again.