Let’s All Stop Pretending That Arcade Fire Are Still Great
Straight up, Arcade Fire's Funeral is, to borrow a phrase of my own, a goddamn classic. Emotionally raw, kinetic and beautiful, the album is a perfect end-to-end representation of music as catharsis — bursting at the seams with unharnessed brilliance, melody, mild experimentation and nods to interesting sources, especially for 2004. It is truly a smart and affecting record, the kind that turns the tides and actually deserves every accolade that it gets. Individual singles hit like anthems (see "Tunnels," "Power Out" or "Wake Up"), and deeper album tracks enrich the record even further ("Crown of Love," "Haiti"). Along with You Forgot it in People, Is This It, Bows + Arrows, Turn on the Bright Lights and a few others, Funeral is one of the most important records of the millennium. There is no denying that, whether you enjoy it or not, Funeral helped to shape the world of indie — and thereby the world of music as we know it.
The key to Funeral's success was the darkness. Delving into themes of death, dealing with loss and ultimate renewal, the record was inspired by the passing of several key family members in the months leading up to its creation. The pain was evident in the poignancy of the recording, but more importantly, emotional release shined like a beacon through it all. Funeral was a light in the darkness. Funeral was hope. Funeral was a modern version of Forever Changes: expansive, ambitious and timeless.
I LOVED Funeral. I bought Bell Orchestre. I bought Owen Pallett. I bought the first EP. I bought the LIVE EP with David Bowie, even though I don't usually care for live records. I was a fan, and this was their moment. I saw them at least twice on that first tour. Their live show felt like something between a religious revival and a punk gig, the kind where people come streaming out of the venue with tears running down their cheeks. They were more than a band then — they were a movement, and I jumped in with both feet. Gimme the Kool-Aid, I'm drinking it all.
And then came Neon Bible. It had its moments, and touched on some of the same ideas in Funeral while expanding on it. In the world of sophomore follow-ups, I was pleased, but in the world of Arcade Fire, I couldn't help but be disappointed. Expectations never meet reality. Then The Suburbs came, and then Reflektor. But by then, I had already checked out — Arcade Fire were no longer for me.
The defining sound of Arcade Fire is that nakedness and release that turns every song into an emotional crescendo that makes you come crashing down the moment it comes to an end. The powder keg, the volatility of emotion that was contained in Funeral is pure bottled magic. And so, as the band's influences — Paul Simon, funk, disco, etc. — started to bubble towards the surface, moving away from the darkness that Funeral inhabited, it became less and less urgent and more and more "not bad."
Which brings us to the new video for "Everything Now," which starts with Win Butler's fragile vocal and acoustic, then erupts into chaos before going full-on Studio 54 cocaine disco (smells a lot like Andrea True Connection) in the first 45 seconds. That darkness is gone — not a cloud in sight. Hell, not only is the sun out, the damn thing is shot during the day in the desert. This is truly feel-good music, and miles and miles away from the majestic debut. If Funeral is our generation's Forever Changes, then "Everything Now" feels like it should be on KISS's Dynasty.
In reality, it's rather unfair to expect a band to not grow and change from record to record. Surely, bands like New Order and Interpol started out with an air of darkness before following their muse and going in different directions. Yet, those bands (and countless others) have been able to maintain that shroud of mystery that appealed to their initial fans. What happened to Arcade Fire? That ability to make veins bulge from your neck from singing at the top of your lungs with all of your heart? Can we blame Spike Jonze or DJ Windows 95 or Saturday Night Live or working with David Bowie at a young age or all of the NBA events that Butler attends or all of the fame, money and power? In all actuality, it's all of the above, and the human element. All of the members have simply moved on from that sound and style.
Happiness may have prevailed, but it doesn't look quite as good on them. I'll stick with "Wake Up."