With Arcade Fire recently scoring a UK #1 album with Reflektor which also debuted at n°1 on Billboard 200, we look back at what made the band so appealing ten years ago and why they’re, now more than ever, vital to modern music.
As you may have noticed, Arcade Fire have a new album out. My heart screams “F****** BRILLIANT BY THE WAY” while my head says “just calm down, don’t distract the reader, you’ll get to it later”. Alright, then.
Never has a Canadian act been so popular and consistently good since Neil Young. Does that sound fair? Well, of course it doesn’t. That’s always been the problem with personal opinions. You could argue Rush and Céline Dion have had their time in the spotlight too.
Back to Arcade Fire though. When they burst onto the scene in 2004, it was with Funeral, an album that rapidly went on to be considered as one of the best debut albums ever. And rightly so, my head says. It brimmed with confidence and maturity in a way few albums do. The songwriting was incredibly good and Win Butler’s voice felt like a cry from the heart. “Purify the colors, purify my mind, and spread the ashes of the colors over this heart of mine”, he sang. And I can still remember hearing it for the first time and thinking this was the most peculiar thing I’d ever heard. The sound was very unique in the way it sounded pristine, yet also crackling and almost lo-fi at times. Funeral was so successful it ended up being Merge Records’ biggest selling album ever.
The next two albums, Neon Bible and The Suburbs, established Arcade Fire as the world’s biggest indie band since Radiohead for good. After three excellent albums, the anticipation for their fourth record was immense. And although it isn’t a shift quite in the same way as Radiohead following OK Computer with Kid A, it is still one of the boldest follow-ups of recent years. Arcade Fire are now more than ever at the forefront of modern rock music. Only time will tell whether Reflektor is actually paving the way forward or simply following its own path, miles away from the expected.
Not only do they experiment with their music, but they also try and find new ways to enjoy music as a whole. Arcade Fire didn’t pioneer interactive music videos but they were among the first “big” bands to make use of it, and since ‘Neon Bible’, they’ve been doing it quite a few times, most recently with ‘Reflektor’. In the past few weeks only, Bombay Bicycle Club, Queens of the Stone Age, Bob Dylan and Pharrell Williams have all unveiled interactive videos. Who got the idea first isn’t what it’s about. It’s all part of a movement of artists considering the technology that surrounds them and making use of it in the most inventive and creative way possible.
Likewise, the Canadian indie rockers weren’t the first to ask their fans to don fancy dress for their concerts. But never has it been so much talked about since they did. It even sparked a controversy to which they had to respond by reminding everyone to “please relax”.
Win Butler & co. have been criticized for being too pretentious, and releasing a double album with most songs going over the 6-minute mark was probably not going to shush the haters. But what do we care? At the end of the day, the music is all that’s left. And, man, it’s really something else.
Written by Brice Detruche