What it means when your favorite band falls from grace
I was introduced to Arcade Fire relatively recently, on a late night bus ride when a friend gave me “The Suburbs” and I had nothing better to do but put it on.
Listening to “The Suburbs” during that bus ride was a musical experience like no other. For the entirety of the 64-minute album, I was enthralled by the passionate vocals of Win Butler and the incredible instrumentation of the band. As I drove late at night through various suburbs and over streets and highways (a fitting setting), I was struck again by the album’s themes of freedom and escape, conflict and despair.
In “The Suburbs,” Arcade Fire paints a tale of resistance and individuality against a dystopian view of the sprawl and society. It is both a passionate album and a painfully beautiful one. It ranges from soft ballads like “City With No Children” and “Sprawl I” to more hard rock tunes like “Month of May.” “The Suburbs” covers an array of music styles while managing to not sound cacophonous and folds each song into the themes of the album.
Along with “The Suburbs,” both “Funeral” and “Neon Bible” rank among my favorite albums, with “Neon Bible” at the top. In their first three records, Arcade Fire consistently brings a passion that sticks out amongst other music. All three of these albums are deeply personal and deal with finding one’s self and place in the wider world.
“Funeral” begins with four tracks named “Neighborhood,” all dealing with home and one’s place. Each are different, but contain a similar message of growing up and dealing with change. Arcade Fire continues this theme throughout the album and into “Neon Bible.”
“Neon Bible” is a darker project than “Funeral,” and, in my opinion, is an evolution of what Arcade Fire wanted to start with “Funeral.” “Neon Bible” deals with not being the person you want to be, or that you feel you should be.
In the first few tracks the listener is placed into a dark reflection of our own world where surviving is the only thing that seems to matter. The second half of the album, however, focuses more on rebelling against the world around you and trying to find your own way. The last five songs on the record are a story of both intense pain and extreme excitement and hope, as well as being what I consider some of the best music out there.
In these first three albums, Arcade Fire manages to create deeply personal and emotional music. The songs, whether melancholic or joyful, slow or upbeat, are passionate above all else. I consider “Funeral,” “Neon Bible” and “The Suburbs” to be Arcade Fire, and to a certain extent indie rock/pop, at its finest.
But there is more in Arcade Fire’s discography than those first three albums. In 2013, the group released their fourth album, “Reflektor,” a departure from their previous projects. “Reflektor” picks up elements of electronic and dance music. The album is much more digital feeling than its predecessors and, to be honest, it’s also much weaker.
While I appreciate risk-taking in music—the art form would have stagnated a while ago without it—this risk taken in “Reflektor” did not pay off. Arcade Fire suddenly changed their style, turning their back on what made them what they were in the first place.
Yet with their recent album, “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire has tried something, again, a little different. “Everything Now” paints itself as a commentary and a satirical version of consumerism, like it’s trying to be a musical homage to the classic movie, “They Live.” Arcade Fire spread rumors of a frivolous lawsuit about the “millennial whoop,” a dress code for an upcoming show, as a way of both publicizing the band and satirizing the acts of modern-day corporations.
The fact of the matter is that all of the “viral marketing” Arcade Fire went through does not make up for the fact that the band has sacrificed its status as an indie icon in order to make a mediocre dance-pop album. Gone is the chamber feel of their previous work. Gone is the intense passion of the band. Gone are the dark themes of self and the personal experiences woven into the music. Sure, “Everything Now” is supposed to satirize the increasingly cold, emotionless corporate world we live in, but satire is not an excuse for a bad product.
With “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire tried and failed to be edgy in a frankly embarrassing way. Between the $110 price tag, the mediocrity of the album and the absent themes that were entwined in their previous work, Arcade Fire seems to have, for lack of a better term, sold out.
Arcade Fire’s fall from grace has left me asking: What does it even mean to have a favorite band? Does it mean that you love all their albums? Does it mean that some of the band’s music holds a special place in your heart? If I tell people that Arcade Fire is my favorite band in 2017 does their mind jump to their incredible first three albums or to “Everything Now?”
Although “Neon Bible” remains my favorite album and “Funeral” and “The Suburbs” are also up there on my list of favorites, I feel such a lack of connection to today’s Arcade Fire. I passed over the opportunity to go to an Arcade Fire concert earlier this year because I knew that it would tarnish my opinion of them even more to see them pushing their new music over their old songs that enthralled me so much.
I have stopped telling people that Arcade Fire is my favorite band. I tend to derail the conversation and talk about my favorite artists in different genres, as now that Arcade Fire has been dethroned in my mind, it seems wrong to have one band that I like more than any other. So for now I don’t think that I have a favorite band, but there’s still a part of me waiting for Arcade Fire to redeem themselves in a few years and climb back onto the pedestal that I have in my mind for them.