We is a considerable improvement on Arcade Fire’s dumpster of a past decade, predictably failing to reach the band’s heights but effective in spurts at reminding how they rose so high to begin with.
Five years removed from a flop so massive that it would kill most bands, Canadian rockers Arcade Fire are back with We, a shockingly straightforward record, and the band’s sixth overall. Produced by frequent Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich, the band leans back into their more traditionally rock-oriented roots, retaining only touches of the synth-heavy texture of their Everything Now era. For a band that has tapped so much of their accrued goodwill over the past decade, it has to be considered something of a surprise that this latest record feels so rooted in the sounds that originally made them so beloved in the aughts.
In early 2011, Arcade Fire seemed unstoppable. They had achieved the rare indie rock feat of winning Album of the Year at the Grammys, their arena tour was sold out across the globe, and nobody seemed to be able to get enough of them. Looking back now, it seems impossible that anyone would have been able to imagine just how much of that energy would be utterly burned out less than a decade later. With mixed reviews dominating the narrative around Reflektor in 2013, and a collective critical pan of Everything Now in 2017 that led to a low-selling arena tour immediately thereafter, it seemed unlikely that they — like so many other indie rock successes of the mid-to-late 2000s, flames that burned hot but fast — would ever find their footing as a band again.
But here we are in 2022, and it seems as if they made the correct move in dropping the majority of their aggrieving gimmick. For too long, Arcade Fire and its members gave off the distinctly self-serious vibe of prestige art rock, and stuck with weird marketing campaigns that didn’t feature the requisite music culture cache to back them up (the unlucky will remember the Everything Now fidget spinners). We finds the group in a more modest mode, and the result is a pleasantly listenable rock/dance-pop record, one that doesn’t hit the highs of their early career, but which mercifully avoids the major pitfalls of the last decade, riding their musician bona fides to more temperate results. The lyrics are still a tad goofy — no one was begging to hear about unsubscribing or “the algorithm,” Win — but the instrumentation is rich and varied, and the album’s high points are plenty high indeed. Tracks like “The Lightning I+II” soar across their space on the record, reminiscent of the looseness that so distinguished The Suburbs. That’s not to call We a return to form necessarily, but to observe that there are moments on the album that do suggest that Arcade Fire is back.
Despite the recentering that takes place here, the future of Arcade Fire remains murky with the departure of Will Butler, brother of lead singer Win and one of the main creative forces behind the band. Still, such strewn uncertainties don’t diminish the fact that with We, Arcade Fire has put together their best album in a decade, a work that’s worth celebrating for its modest, measured successes. If the group is never again to reclaim the distinctive jangly rock vibes of Funeral or mine the same kind of penetrating lyricism that permeated Neon Bible, so be it. But as has been the band’s forte across their career, what comes next will always be surprising, and We suggests that their trajectory isn’t as bothered by gravity as it recently seemed.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2022 | Part 1.