Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can’t ignite

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

Coldplay’s Chris Martin deems them “the finest ensemble in history,” and David Bowie was a fan. However, despite being one of the world’s most popular bands, Arcade Fire may be guilty of taking themselves too seriously.

They’re back with their sixth album, We. A feeling of universal fear and the erosion of American identity are among the serious issues they chose to address.

One song discusses Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

If all of this seems like a lot of work, it is… at least in parts.

Despite the absence of a shining pop moment to equal 2017’s Everything Now single, Arcade Fire, who founded in Montreal in 2001, have the capacity to blend such high-minded subjects with swaggering melodies and extravagant arrangements, and there are enough of them in here, too.

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

In truth, we’re dealing with a vintage art-rock record from the 1970s. There are subtle references to David Bowie, as well as a surprise appearance by former Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel. The inclusion of Father John Misty as an extra producer (he also adds’stomps and breathes’) does nothing to temper the grandiosity.

We is an album of two halves, with seven tracks forming an arc from darkness to light, as a football commentator would put it. The universe rests on the shoulders of the first half, which is founded in loneliness.

The second, fueled by the exhilaration of reuniting with loved ones after the lockdown, is more optimistic.

The sextet’s swirling carousel of sound, a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments that includes guitar, percussion, brass, and strings, is at the centre of it all.

Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne do the song. Butler’s mother, Liza Rey, contributes some harp to keep it in the family. The first portion is overshadowed with a feeling of dread.

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

On Age Of Anxiety I, Butler warns, “Gotta get this spirit out of me, this anxiety that’s inside of me.”

The four-movement suite From the collapse of American dominance to a desire to unsubscribe from streaming services, End Of The Empire I-IV covers it all.

Everything is a bit pompous. On the second side, the high peaks are thicker and quicker. The Lightning is a two-part song that begins with a majestic piano ballad before transitioning to a Bruce Springsteen-style rocker.

Butler sings, “The dark sky comes back to indigo,” illustrating the mood shift. It’s exaggerated… yet tough to ignore.

After all of the bombast, another two-part performance, Unconditional I and II, provides some welcome light respite. Lookout Kid, the opening part, is a folky love letter to Butler and Chassagne’s son Edwin.

Part two is a cheerful love song with Gabriel duetting with Regine, evocative of Talking Heads disco spinoff Tom Tom Club.

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

In lockdown — “the most time we’ve ever spent writing” — We have the vibe of a band that is overthinking everything. It’s difficult to criticise their desire, but I have a feeling that these simmering tunes will only completely explode once Arcade Fire returns on the road.

Soft Cell impacted British electronic music in the 1980s with singles like Tainted Love and Bedsitter. However, vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist Dave Ball have never been prolific, which is why their fifth album is so welcome.

*Happiness Not Included, their first album in 38 years, revisits all of the elements that made them so popular in their prime. Almond’s voice is warm and approachable, and his lyrics are laced with humour.

The synth-powered whooshes and bleeps of Ball are vibrant and tuneful without becoming overpowering.

There are several highlights. The films Happy Happy Happy and New Eden examine how yesterday’s future sci-fi fantasies failed to materialise. The couple, who met as art students in Leeds, planned to title this album Future Nostalgia, but Dua Lipa beat them to it.

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

Even when things don’t go as planned, they continue to write engagingly about soldiering on.

The musical counterpart of an Edward Hopper picture is the sweetly sung Light Sleepers, which is an endearing depiction of Californian night owls. In 1980s New York, the witty Polaroid captures an unsatisfactory meeting with Andy Warhol.
Nostalgia Machine has cheesy dance music and references both David Essex’s motorcycle flick Silver Dream Racer and Hawkwind’s Silver Machine.

Purple Zone, above all, is a soaring duet between Almond and Neil Tennant that brings together the UK’s largest synth duo (Pet Shop Boys) and its most influential musician (Neil Tennant) (Soft Cell).

Sigrid’s ‘tough second album’ grew much more challenging for her when she was airlifted from Los Angeles back to her home bedroom in Norway during a lockdown.

She became melancholy and contemplative as she was torn between home comforts and a jet-setting lifestyle.

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can't ignite

The result is an inconsistent follow-up to Sucker Punch, which reasserts her pop star credentials – she’s a strong voice — but is uneven. On the bouncy Mirror, Sigrid, 25, excels, harkening back to the electronica of her 2017 Top 10 single Strangers.

Experiments with more guitar-centric material have had mixed results. It Gets Dark is a basic rock ballad about accepting difficult times and moving on, while Bad Life, a surprising duet with Bring Me The Horizon vocalist Oli Sykes, demonstrates her range.

‘It’s only a terrible day, not a horrible life,’ she sings, her popularity steadily rising.

WATCH: Arcade Fire – Everything Now (Official Video)

Arcade Fire up 1970s art rock, but still can’t ignite

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