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Arcade Fire - WE Music Album Reviews

Arcade Fire - WE Music Album Reviews
The band’s sixth album pivots back to a more melodic, sincere, and effortful style, attempting once again to find a genuine connection.

During Arcade Fire’s appearance at Coachella last month, Win Butler got a little emotional. He was introducing “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” a tender single from the band’s new album, WE. Unlike 2017’s Everything Now, its lyrics made no effort to meet our present moment of desensitized irony and online overstimulation. And unlike 2013’s Reflektor, no shiny synths or disco beats contrasted with the heartland quiver of his voice. Instead, the bandleader, who’d turned 42 the previous day, stood with an acoustic guitar and sang earnest bits of advice to a young person, asking the audience to accompany him with a childlike, wordless refrain. Soon, the sentiment proved too much. He hid his face behind his hands, and his bandmates stopped to let him collect himself.

From the beginning, Arcade Fire were built for moments when raw feeling overtakes us. They recorded their debut album, 2004’s Funeral, in their early 20s, a time when our perspective on death and aging, our parents and our hometown, becomes more fragile and complex, when the divide between childhood and messier, serious adulthood feels dramatic and irreversible. Some of the band’s coping mechanisms now seem like youthful affectations—the period costumes, the whimsical on-stage antics—while others proved enduring. The core of the band remains the duo of Butler and Régine Chassagne, who co-write the songs and share lead vocals in addition to being married parents of a 9-year-old son, and their best songs still seem designed to be sung as loud as possible, eyes closed, from the heart of a massive crowd.

These principles define WE, an album that reclaims the band’s trademarks after a decade spent fighting against them. Butler and Chassagne wrote the whole record on guitar and piano at their home in New Orleans, ensuring the bones were established before presenting it to their bandmates. The same way that vivid flashes from childhood haunted their earliest songwriting, the couple now let their history as collaborators flicker through the music: They’ve claimed that pieces of the multi-part lead single “The Lightning” date back to Funeral, while aspects of the also multi-part “End of the Empire” first materialized when they were in college.

Part of the band’s charm always came from the buzzing, lived-in atmosphere of their records. They sounded too big for every room they played in: voices clipping in microphones, instruments crowding the stage. Co-produced by Nigel Godrich, these songs open up a larger space. There has never been so much silence on an Arcade Fire record, offering a sense of dynamics that makes slow-build anthems like “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)” and quiet turns like the title track feel equally momentous. Godrich draws attention to the negative space on the outer edges of the songs, adding a newly vulnerable counterpoint to the sonic peaks. At times, they sound jarringly intimate, even humble.

And yet, this is still Arcade Fire, and you are unlikely to hear a more ambitious major label rock album in 2022. The lyrics touch on spiritual deliverance and the actual apocalypse; the credits list strings, horns, harp, congas, djembe, fiddle, and Peter Gabriel; influences include Dark Side of the Moon and Martin Luther King Jr. The entire record is structured as a journey from introspective angst (the first side is labeled “I”) to communal transcendence (the second is “We”) as if trying to put the pandemic to bed single-handedly. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a record try so desperately to move me, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. After all this time, Arcade Fire seem to have learned their imperfections are easier to gloss over when the music sweeps you up and away with it.

The band’s last three albums channeled their grand scope into sprawling tracklists, but on WE, they attempt to pack it into every song, not content until each one feels like it could become the peak of their live set. Clearly recognizing this approach would become exhausting stretched across a long-form project, they wisely structure the album in movements, ensuring no two of its seven songs occupy the same color palette or mood. If you prefer the band in jittery neons, the Chassagne-led “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” will be the ecstatic highlight; if you miss the baroque, indie-film drama of their early days, “The Lightning” will be a refreshing hit of adrenaline; if you want a strummy singalong for your next road trip, kick off the playlist with “End of the Empire” and watch the landscape blur.

All of this is to say, WE badly strives to be another classic Arcade Fire album, something that can appeal to all factions of their fanbase and reignite the spark, nearly two decades into their career. Occasionally, the attempt is almost enough to make it feel like one. But like any presentation this effortful, there are times when you want only to avert eye contact and make it stop. The belabored coda to “End of the Empire,” which touches on Dante’s Inferno to sell a long, cheeky metaphor about “unsubscribing,” must have felt like an epiphany in the recording studio: an “Are we allowed to do that?” sense of glee, fulfilling a latent wish for Butler—who has come off as stern and humorless in so much of his songwriting—to join the Lonely Island. But this brand of satirical theater is a lot less funny when the guy singing seems to have tears in his eyes, pleading for approval.

At the end of the grand, pulsing opener “Age of Anxiety I,” Butler plays a little trick, layering his voice with two warring premonitions: “It’s all about you,” goes one. “It’s not about you,” snipes the other. It’s a fleeting refrain meant to conjure a sense of paranoid self-interrogation, although with the music that follows, it ends up sounding somewhat indecisive: a songwriter tossing his subject matter in the air and hoping it lands. The “I”/”We” structure is a handy tool to sort the new material, but it also becomes a crutch for a band that has so triumphantly merged the two perspectives. As a result, the tone is uncharacteristically distant: Does he want to comfort us, critique us, or rock our souls? Why is he still so mad at the internet? Or, to return to that lyric in “Age of Anxiety I,” what is it all about?

In a sense, every Arcade Fire song is about the same thing, and any of their records could share a title with this one. They are singing about us, with a rare ability to transform and unite. When you listen to The Suburbs, they are driving through your hometown. When we listen to Funeral, we are feral kids in the snow, our uncut hair long and symbolic as it blows in the post-apocalyptic wind. On Neon Bible, I am vaguely wary of the government. These records were able to reach the same climax as their live shows, when the band wanders into the audience, making each fan feel like an auxiliary member.

All of those albums invited similar criticism to this one—clunky lyrics, emotional overreach—but WE is the first time the band seems to wrestle with those concerns in the actual music. During the first verse of “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole),” Chassagne responds to each of Butler’s lyrics with a muted “yeah.” It’s not the type of call-and-response an audience can participate in but rather a quiet insistence: “Not bad—what else you got?” Beneath the album’s social critique and sci-fi scenery, WE zeroes in on a more personal battle. Set to music that aims to play like a compact highlights reel, multiple lyrics address being “midway through life,” and nearly every song returns to crises of confidence and identity. These are fitting quandaries for a band who has reached a vast divide between how they see themselves—arch, self-aware—and how they’re seen by others—earnest, full of wonder—which could explain their recurring difficulty in presenting their art to the world, why they’ve made such a habit of apologizing for album rollouts.

Arcade Fire struggle to have it both ways. They want to lower the stakes for themselves, but they also want to write the album that summarizes the past two years of pandemic life, drawing on a 1924 dystopian novel, a 1958 epic poem about America, and every David Bowie song that’s longer than five minutes. They want to remind you they’re the same empathetic songwriters who made you cry to your iPod in your childhood bedroom, but they also want to be the first indie band to work “New phone, who’s this?” into a lyric. They want to play to their strengths, but they only occasionally remember what they are.

To their credit, they mostly remember in the second half of the record, where the songs become more modest and refined, the writing more confident and precise. This is when Butler and Chassagne look into each other’s eyes, and maybe to the world, and beg, “Don’t quit on me/I won’t quit on you.” Just after that is “Lookout Kid,” and even if it’s the closest this band has come to matching the treacly sentiment of its more cartoonish imitators, the lyrics present the clearest effort to transcend the band’s ongoing creative rut. With its fatherly wisdom and jaunty, springtime bounce, you can see why the whole thing moved Butler to tears as he looked to his audience: his muse, the sea of faces he’s watched from this same vantage point as they’ve multiplied and moved on, so close and so far away. “There are things that you can do that no one else on Earth could ever do,” he promises them. He knows it’s a two-way street and he’s fighting like hell to live up to his end.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Arcade Fire - WE Music Album Reviews Arcade Fire - WE Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, May 12, 2022 Rating: 5

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