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Arcade Fire - We (Album Review)

Monday, 09 May 2022 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: María José Govea

Having been critical darlings throughout their career, Arcade Fire found themselves coming unstuck with the reception to their last LP ‘Everything Now’ in 2017. Win Butler has spoken of the response fitting a script: one that paints a picture of their greatness faltering before a comeback. In this story, ‘We’ is that return to form.

True enough, in plenty of quarters that’s a familiar tale. But there was no agenda. ‘Everything Now’ just wasn’t on the same level as their other albums, even if it wasn’t as duff as many made it out to be. Butler also notes that any piece of art takes about 20 years to be recognised as exceptional—in 20 years time ‘Everything Now’ will still sit behind its siblings in the Arcade Fire catalogue.

Their sixth, and shortest, album, ‘We’ exists on an intellectual level almost separate from the music. The band’s output has always been much more than just a collection of songs—they are more like spectacular acts within a wider play.

For starters, the album is split into two halves, ‘I’ and ‘We’, demarcating individual isolation and then coming together with others. 

The coming together of the band, however, was in place just before the pandemic struck, meaning its members were subsequently hastily sent back to where they came from. As a result, Butler had fewer ideas to work with than he would have liked. Fittingly, he goes on to describe the album as being about “the forces that pull us away from the people we love” before finding each other again.

Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, Father John Misty and Peter Gabriel all contribute to ‘We’ but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. The record sounds exactly like Arcade Fire without any additional help, even if it doesn’t quite reach the highest peaks they’ve achieved before. It’s a return to their soaring, cinematic strengths, a move that will delight their fans.

Age of Anxiety I opens the album to delicate piano that could be performed by Ludovico Einaudi but it doesn’t stay that way for long. Blossoming into a gigantic epic, its lyrics tell of “the age of doubt”.  “It’s all about you” but then, conversely, “it’s not about you”. 

The galloping Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole) continues the excitement before a full four-segmented suite arrives, End of the Empire I-IV. The grandiose nature of the huge track evokes memories of when the Beatles got fed up knocking out three-minute pop songs but there’s nothing in the Fabs’ repertoire that mentions anything like Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre of the Milky Way. Butler’s vocal performance is also fittingly superb.

The Lightning I, II displays strong melodic sense for a rollicking effort, before Unconditional I (Lookout Kid) and Unconditional II come along. The former, inspired by Butler’s relationship with his son, tells of unconditional love while a disco feel drives the latter. Régine Chassagne takes lead vocals, bringing boundless energy to the forefront.

Butler’s younger brother Will announced his departure from the band soon after the album was completed, so this feels like it could be the end of a chapter. Perhaps that’s just us attempting to write another script to fit our needs. Our need for new, brilliant music from a band capable of such things, though, has been quenched. ‘We’ is not so much (dare we say it) a return to form, but a reminder of Arcade Fire’s strength and the appeal that made us fall in love with them in the first place—unconditionally, of course.

Arcade Fire Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue August 30 2022 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Fri September 02 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Utilita Arena Birmingham
Sat September 03 2022 - MANCHESTER AO Arena
Mon September 05 2022 - GLASGOW OVO Hydro
Wed September 07 2022 - LONDON O2 Arena
Thu September 08 2022 - LONDON O2 Arena

Compare & Buy Arcade Fire Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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