In the aughts, probably the biggest alt-band to break out was Arcade Fire, the leading edge of the ‘Canadian Invasion’, with Funeral taking ears by storm. They followed that up with two more amazing records, 2007’s Neon Bible (QRO review) and 2010’s The Suburbs (QRO review), that cemented them at around The Strokes and even Radiohead in alt-star fame. But then came the somewhat disco, somewhat indulgent double-album Reflector (QRO review) in 2013, and the even more disco Everything Now (QRO review) in 2017. While containing some great songs, there were also some not-so-great ones, and the ‘past their prime’ and ‘gone rock star’ opinions came about. Well, new album WE is not Everything, and even if it might not be their classic aughts, it’s both a return to greatness and a rebirth.
There are a lot of great Arcade Fire hallmarks on WE. There’s the grand hope of “The Lightning I”, that goes immediately into the more active “The Lightning II” (shades of Funeral’s numbered “Neighborhood”s). There’s the epic orchestral “End of the Empire I-III” that says goodbye to America – and leads into the powerful “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A-)” (even if some of the power is sapped by singer/guitarist Win Butler’s constant refrain of, “I unsubscribe”, which is too ‘trying to be hip & of the moment’). Singer/keyboardist Régine Chassange gets to shine on “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” – yes, another paired piece, with the treacly-but-sweet “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)”. And even when WE veers into Arcade Fire’s disco-dance of the teens in “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)”, it is done better, darker.
Yes, there are a lot of paired pieces, eight of the ten, with only a thirty second prelude and the closing title track not having a sibling – yes, signaling an urge to ‘return to form’, but it’s an absolutely great form. Also, only over forty minutes in length in total, another welcome return.
Obviously, WE can’t be Funeral II or some such (even Arcade Fire won’t try that kind of Weezer-like album naming maneuver – another iconic alt-band that dipped in their second decade, but came back in their third). But that’s a very high bar, basically, even chronologically, impossible to make. Instead, this is the Arcade Fire that you know & love, and WE so wanted to hear more of.