With a result of uninterrupted songwriting sessions, the pandemic would prove to be a creative catalyst for the Canadian indie titans. Following a five-year gap punctuated by soundtrack contributions and instrumental projects, WE emerges designed for a state of recovery following a period of upheaval. Separated in two segments, divided between destruction and revival, the band reconstrue numerous past iterations, with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne leading the charge in readopting the stringed chamber pop of Funeral and Neon Bible, with the ABBA-indebted party sentiment of Everything Now toned down and near absent. The peaks of each era are all present, strung together in self-edited, less-is-more fashion.
Crystallises just what makes these Canadians so great: when they hit the mark, there’s nobody to touch them Back in 2004, a little-known band from Canada released one of the greatest debut albums ever made. Funeral by Arcade Fire was that rare thing, an instant classic – full of emotion, power and poignancy. Coupled with live shows that seemed more like religious experiences, forging a genuine connection with their audience, Funeral made Win Butler’s band into superstars.
Arcade Fire have never been cool. In fact, for many wonderful years that was their raison d’etre, each new album of maximalist baroque pop riding that thin line between moving earnestness and outright mawkishness, balanced by an undercurrent of reluctant, aching pessimism. At their best their open-armed orchestral arrangements were sweepingly grandiose in scope while remaining affectingly personal, forever hinging on the lovelorn lyrical interplay of the band's emotive core: husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne.
It's no coincidence the set for their 2017 tour was a wrestling ring: Arcade Fire had done a heel turn. Since quickly becoming one of the biggest faces of the early '00s indie rock boom -- a recent book on Canada's contributions to that era features a photo of the band's Régine Chassagne on the cover -- their open-hearted, community-minded approach to music-making (not to mention transportive folk rock sound) had led to an untouchable trio of early records. At their best, Arcade Fire hone in on the particular facets of life that tend to speed by and imbue them with as much pathetic fallacy as possible.
Every good story needs a redemption arc. For Arcade Fire, that time is now. Regardless of what you think of Everything Now (though this reviewer thinks his score was far too generous), it's undeniably the band's most polarizing record, one stymied by an overwrought marketing campaign with Win Butler and co wagging their fingers at us for our role in a capitalist, distracted society.
WE're All Gonna Make It?
Arcade Fire "made it" a long, long time ago. They were wildly successful by 2006, before even their second album had released, and over the past sixteen years, as "hipster" became the tired buzzword of yesteryear and every advertising department found a hapless gaggle of quirk-rockers to prop up their brands with, this band has really only solidified their standing as one of the most widely-recognized and profitable enterprises in the world of indie. Whether true believers greet WE with acclaim or disgust or indifference, Arcade Fire will keep up their steady regimen of arena concerts and oily corporate engagements, because they are not beholden to the mewlings of online music enthusiasts in any way that matters.
These are interesting times for Arcade Fire. With 2017's Everything Now, Montreal's 00s alt-figureheads suffered their steepest dip of critical momentum since 2004's ecstatic Funeral. Latterly, live show-stealer Will Butler's departure - however amicable - can't help but present further challenges.
Continuing a policy seemingly set with 2013's Reflektor - Scary Monsters via Achtung Baby - the band's response seems to be to "do a U2".