Arcade Fire are one of that rare breed of bands who manage to maintain their cult status and independent spirit despite being a global success. Until their most recent album I would probably have said they are the best band in the world but Reflektor was huge misstep for an otherwise excellent band.
The chaotic nature of their live show, that sees anything up to 12 people all playing various instruments, only adds to the acclaim and fierce loyalty that many feel towards the Montreal based band. As they have only released 4 studio albums, I elected to also include bassist Will Butler’s solo album as well as the Oscar nominated soundtrack to the 2013 film Her.
6. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (2013)
Key Track: Reflektor
What They Said: ‘Going to Haiti for the first time with Régine was the beginning of a major change in the way that I thought about the world. Usually, I think you have most of your musical influences locked down by the time you’re 16. There was a band I feel changed me musically, just really opened me up to this huge, vast amount of culture and influence I hadn’t been exposed to before, which was really life-changing’ – Win Butler on the bands different sound for Reflektor.
All the news coming out of the Arcade Fire camp in the run up to the release of their 4th album Reflektor was overwhelmingly positive. The band had supposedly recorded around 60 tracks for the album and had been working with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. It was hugely disappointing then that what followed was a bloated, forgettable mess. Whilst the David Bowie featuring title track is successfully daring, it is difficult to pick out a good song anywhere on the rest of the album.
Reflektor was the album when Arcade Fire became the band their critics had always said they were. Pretentious and difficult. I sincerely hope their next album is a return to form.
5. Arcade Fire – Her OST (2014)
Key Track: Some Other Place
What They Said: ‘In the rough cut, the screen goes black, and it’s sex noises for three minutes. You’re like, “Oh, this could go wrong in so many ways — like an infinite number.’ – Will Butler on scoring an off screen sex scene in the movie Her.
The Her soundtrack was produced around the same time as Reflektor and the two albums even share the song ‘Supersymmetry’. Whilst the Reflektor version is an inexplicably sprawling (and dull) 11 minutes, the Her version is shorter and therefore more emotionally resonant. If only Will Butler had fought away more creative control from his brother for all of Reflektor.
The rest of the Her soundtrack is entirely instrumental and comes off as an almost ambient dance record, with calming strings and synthesisers the order of the day. The whole album is a beautiful and introspective listen but ‘Some Other Place’ is undoubtedly the highlight with its stirring crescendo and piano led melody.
4. Will Butler – Policy (2015)
Key Track: What I Want
What They Said: ‘Onstage, he’s the physical embodiment of the band’s music—deceptively mild-mannered, yet capable of going off without warning. Not surprisingly, his debut solo album makes a virtue of that instability.’ – Pitchfork
‘Music where the holy fool runs afoul of the casual world’ – Will Butler
Following on from the Her soundtrack, fans expected Will Butler’s solo album to perhaps be more experimental and arty than even the work he does for his main band. Always one to defy convention however, Butler instead released what is as close to a straight forward rock album as a member of Arcade Fire can possibly get.
What follows is a joyous, stomping rock record that is perhaps best represented by the punky chaos of ‘What I Want’ as well as the wistful balladry of ‘Finish What I Started’. One of the best records of 2015.
3. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
Key Track: Sprawl I (Flatland)
What They Said: ‘Neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs’ – Win Butler
For their third album, Arcade Fire took their world weary, post apocalyptic, panic station and applied it to their modest upbringing. The title track and the rousing single ‘Ready to Start’ are a call to arms for the rest of the album as the band struggles to align their Texas upbringing with the insane world in which they now reside.
Whilst The Suburbs is not as consistent as the two albums that proceeded it, it contains some of the bands best work, particularly in the haunting flashback that is ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)’, a quite simply exquisite song.
2. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
Key Track: Really hard to pick just one but ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ just about takes it.
What They Said: ‘Here was this really huge energy that we all felt, that we wanted to get out there and play, so it felt like a lot of the time we were writing the stuff on Funeral, it was dying to be played’ – Win Butler
Melodramatic, cinematic, dangerous, passionate, hopeful but also underscored with sadness, Funeral is not only one of the most beloved albums of the decade but also the Arcade Fire record that history has looked back on the most fondly. Only Radiohead’s Kid A can boast more appearances in album of the decade lists and Funeral is generally considered to be the Canadian art rock bands best work.
From the gradual build up of ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’ through to the empowering catharsis of ‘In The Back Seat’, Funeral is ten perfect tracks that make for a flawless album.
1. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (2007)
Key Track: Intervention
What They Said: ‘People don’t necessarily know that they’re taking on a worldview, or absorbing ideas. It doesn’t necessarily seem like it’s happening, but it definitely does. I find it very easy to get sucked in. It starts to affect the way you see the world.’ – Win Butler
In a world where it seems like the rapture is only around the corner or that a holy war is looming, Neon Bible is both the soundtrack and a warning. The lyrics and imagery evoke a world on the edge of a breakdown and a singer losing his mind. ‘Intervention’ could soundtrack every image of an abandoned church in a zombie movie but ‘Windowsill’, ‘No Cars Go’ and the title track also share the feeling of a world desperately trying to come up for air with madness around every corner.
The fact that the album closes on ‘My Body Is A Cage’ is a glorious red herring that takes all the grandiose pomposity of the previous tracks and moulds it into something personal and real. Society has never been more disillusioned with religion, perhaps it’s time to give the ‘Neon Bible’ a try instead.
Also undoubtedly the only album to feature a song about Jessica Simpsons Dad…