Arcade Fire

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Funeral (2004) , 7.5/10
Bell Orchestre: Recording A Tape The Colour Of The Sky (2005), 5.5/10
Neon Bible (2007), 7/10
Bell Orchestre: As Seen Through Windows (2009), 5.5/10
Suburbs (2010), 6.5/10
Reflektor (2013), 5/10
Everything Now (2017), 4/10
WE (2022), 4/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana

Montreal-based Arcade Fire (vocalist and guitarist Win Butler, keyboardists Regine Chassagne and Richard Parry, bassist Tim Kingsbury and drummer Howard Bilerman) crafted the magniloquent pop ballads of Funeral (Merge, 2004), such as the emotional crescendo and dense arrangements of Neighborhood #1 - Tunnels (watery sounds mixed withh loud repetitive guitar riffs and neoclassical plaintive piano figures), but they also displayed a flair for disorienting melodic constructs. Witness how they fuse folk music and new wave in Neighborhood #2 - Laika, juxtaposing an accordion and a violin against repetitive Sonic Youth-ian guitars and neurotic Talking Heads-ian vocals over a march-like rhythm, or how Rebellion - Lies builds up into a driving pop song out of a simple, insistent boogie pattern at the piano (almost a fusion of U2's solemn cadence and the Cars' disco beat), or how a hard-rocking guitar, a neoclassical cello and bombastic drumming coexist on the soaring blues of Wake Up (and how the latter mutates into an effervescent piano-driven gospel celebration). Even more effective was the chaotic and propulsive psychodrama of Neighborhood #3 - Power Out, a formidable enactment of high drama peppered with dissonances and cello lines (achieving a sense of grandeur and tragedy that evokes U2). At the other end of the spectrum, they penned the gentle, mournful, martial chamber pop of Neighborhood #4 - 7 Kettles, the romantic chanson of Un Anne Sans Lumiere (featuring a simple melody and simple arrangement), and the distorted Caribbean-voodoo dance of Haiti (sung by Chassagne in a childish nursery-rhyme tone against ). They even concoct a waltz-like dance-pop ditty, Crown Of Love, that could have made salivate both Burt Bacharach and David Bowie, and close the album with The Backseat, a childish lullaby for whispering contralto (soaring into a dreamy and operatic litany), strings and piano that slowly turns into a solemn lied with all the instruments banging together and the strings floating around. The album used a grand total of fifteen musicians, including two cellists, four violinists, one harpist, a viola player, and various people playing xylophones, accordion, percussions and synthesizer.

Arcade Fire contributed Cold Wind (2005) to a movie soundtrack.

Richard Reed Parry and violinist Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire play in Canadian quintet Bell Orchestre, whose Recording A Tape The Colour Of The Sky (Rough Trade, 2005) is a rather conventional recording of instrumental post-rock scored for chamber rock ensemble of strings, horns, keyboards, bass, drums and guitar.

Rather than trying to reinvent their sound or progressing towards something new, for their sophomore album Arcade Fire simply delivered what is, de facto, Funeral part II. Neon Bible (Merge, 2007) boasts the same mastery of arrangement and the same intriguing combination of instrumental talent and songwriting class.
Many of the songs are overflowing with references to the classics: Black Mirror, with tragic overtones a` la David Bowie underpinned by pounding rhythm a` la Velvet Underground and by spiraling strings; Keep the Car Running, a Brian Eno-esque litany over syncopated Balkan beat; Black Wave/Bad Vibrations, half dance-rock a` la B52's for shrill female vocals and frantic new-wave rhythm and half dark-punk for gloomy guitar and gothic choir.
A remake of their No Cars Go (originally on their debut EP) for a denser mix of trumpet, accordion and pipe organ, show how original their take on the new wave used to be. At the opposite end of the spectrum, The Well And The Lighthouse is another pounding litany but much more derivative of the dark and glam originals.
Interestingly, the emotional peaks of the album are achieved by two songs that share the same influences: Intervention, a solemn Bob Dylan-esque rigmarole propelled by Bach-ian pipe organ into an emphatic, quasi-symphonic Bruce Springsteen-esque crescendo; and Antichrist Television Blues, a blend of Bruce Springsteen's The River and Bob Dylan's Desire.
Another peak, though, is uniquely theirs: the funereal blues (and perhaps existential manifesto) My Body Is A Cage, whose crescendo of macabre church organ lines manages to be equal part grandeur and sadness.
Elsewhere, the group can also strike a simpler kind of chord: Neon Bible, a whispered lullaby for cello and percussion (Donovan-style), the atmospheric elegy Windowsill (Springsteen-style), etc. However, there is no question that these are more than mere diversions compared with the intensity of the more complex songs.

Bell Orchestre's second album, As Seen Through Windows (Arts & Crafts, 2009), refined their concept of neoclassical post-rock. The best piece, however, Bucephalus Bouncing Ball, is a cover of a 1997 Aphex Twin song, and the other two lengthy suites, Elephants and Air Lines/Land Lines, take too long to get to the point.

The concept album Suburbs (2010) is a humble fresco of ordinary life in the city. Not coincidentally, there are frequent echoes of the masters of the genre, starting with the marching and soulful The Suburbs and with the hard-rocking and bouncy Ready to Start (a` la Cheap Trick), both delivered in a mood that artfully blends joy and melancholy. The singer's soft crooning sails over steady and simple rhythms, barely disturbed by the instrumental arrangements, yielding atmospheric ballads in a tone that becomes progressively more poignant and hypnotic via Modern Man and Rococo (with its grandiose minimalist crescendo leading to a pow-wow dance of sorts). The frantic Empty Room shifts gear, propelling the album into an almost cosmic dimension while celebrating loneliness. Something similar takes place a few songs later, with the explosive rockabilly of Month of May. Half Light comes in two parts: the first one (a dialogue between both singers) is a gentle lullaby that goes nowhere while the second one, propelled by a pounding techno beat, sounds like a religious psalm. The Kinks-ian leitmotiv returns in Deep Blue, while We Used To Wait returns to the suspenseful tone. But the real shock comes at the end with the two-part Sprawl, each part being the exact opposite of the other: Flatland is a slow and dense orchestral aria worthy of a Broadway musical, while Mountains Beyond is an Abba-style disco ditty. The message (as embodied in the music) therefore becomes cryptic as the theme moves away from the city.
The melodies rarely soar. There are no significant refrains/choruses, just a relatively plain colloquial chanting.

Suburbs turned Arcade Fire into stars.

The double-disc Reflektor (Merge, 2013) was basically a collaboration with disco-revivalist James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The album ends up being a tribute of sorts to the late 1970s and early 1980s. A few seconds into Reflektor one is ready to hear Blondie and, later in the same song, one is ready to see John Travolta dance at music by the Bee Gees. The rocking reggae Flashbulb Eyes could have been a (minor) track on the Clash's Sandinista. Many of the polyrhythmic arrangements could be lifted from the Talking Heads' Remain in Light, and the few jarring guitar parts echo gritty new-wave acts like Television. The disco-punk party continues in the light boogie Joan of Arc, whereas It's Never Over pays tribute to Prince-ly funk-soul. One is almost relieved when the bouncy finger-snapping singalong You Already Know comes along, a simple ditty halfway between Motown-soul and glam-rock. Some of the other songs are truly embarrassing. This is an album that sounded cheesy even in the year when it came out.

The band's decline was confirmed by their fifth album Everything Now (2017). Two songs sound like tributes to Abba's Dancing Queen: Everything Now (the better one) and Put Your Money on Me. Two songs are obsessed with tribal impetus: Signs of Life, which weds the rhythmic progression of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk and its horn fanfare with rap singing, and Chemistry, which grafts the guitar riff of Joan Jett's I Love Rock And Roll onto a joyful Jamaican ska fanfare, sounds like its natural continuation. Two tracks are amateurish attempts at electronic punk-rock: Creature Comfort, which weds frantic New Order-esque synth-pop (Geoff Barrow of Portishead on synths) with a Pointer Sisters-like choir, and the reggae-inflected Peter Pan. Most the album is even worse, from Regine Chassagne's ridiculous ballad Electric Blue to the ridiculous punk-rock of Infinite Content.

Arcade Fire's WE (2022), titled after Evgeny Zamyatin's dystopian novel "We" (1924) , contains obnoxious dance-pop ballads like Age of Anxiety I & II and a derivative David Bowie-esque power-ballad, End of The Empire I-III, for guitar and mellotron. Some energy surfaces in The Lightning II, a mediocre boogie with a mediocre refrain attempting to sound anthemic, and in the super-mediocre house-music of Unconditional II. One can appreciate the apocalyptic gloom, but the music, if possible, is even worse than Everything Now.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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