Review Summary: WE're All Gonna Make It?
Arcade Fire "made it" a long, long time ago. They were wildly successful by 2006, before even their second album had released, and over the past sixteen years, as "hipster" became the tired buzzword of yesteryear and every advertising department found a hapless gaggle of quirk-rockers to prop up their brands with, this band has really only solidified their standing as one of the most widely-recognized and profitable enterprises in the world of indie. Whether true believers greet WE
with acclaim or disgust or indifference, Arcade Fire will keep up their steady regimen of arena concerts and oily corporate engagements, because they are not beholden to the mewlings of online music enthusiasts in any way that matters. They've beaten the game. What do we want from them?
What do WE want from them?
I am, despite everything, an Arcade Fire fan, or at the very least an invested listener. I am a repeat customer. At one point, this band meant a lot to me— chalk it up to adolescence if you want, but plenty of music from my high school years has long since lost its luster while "Tunnels" and "We Used to Wait" and "Keep the Car Running" tug my heartstrings as dextrously as ever. Even though they have not released an album I've enjoyed in over a decade, I still love The Suburbs
. If Arcade Fire has any remaining ability to write and perform music that moves me the way those albums do, I'm more than willing to jump on board with WE.
All relevant boards remain un-jumped on. WE
, first and foremost, clarifies what exactly I want from Arcade Fire: I want them to own it. I want them to realize that their pouting and tut-tutting over Our Modern Hyper-Saturated Overstimulating Media Landscape rings disastrously
hollow, because they play Coachella and they play at Las Vegas “crypto fests” and when a longtime band member departs people post articles about it. A successful career in media means that you’re part of the problem, and it means that you can’t get away with being cutesy about it, and it means that people feel less sorry for you when you cry. It means that you don't get to be a part of “We” by default anymore. Maybe that's unfair, but fairness didn't sell a million copies of Neon Bible
. Make no mistake, Win Butler knows where his bread is buttered. So, does he really want everyone to "unsubscribe", or does he just want to not feel bad about it anymore? Is WE
really a battle to save True Human Connection from the jaws of consumerism, or is it a battle for these jagoffs' personal emotional comfort?
Whew, for a band that used to trade in such guileless sincerity, it sure is easy to be cynical about Arcade Fire these days. Can there truly be no redemption for socially semiconscious indiestars? Well, maybe not on a thematic level, but Arcade Fire are nothing if not professionals, and when they aren't busy huffing over various societal ills, they're ably consolidating choice sounds from all across their wide-ranging career. There’s an admirable effort on display here to include a little something for everyone. You want sentimental jangle pop? "Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)" and the title track should prove treacly and twinkly enough to satisfy anyone still holding out hope for that next Mumford & Sons album. You want a synth-soaked four-on-the-floor? "Unconditional II (Race and Religion)" features the slickest dance beat these guys have laid down since "Mountains Beyond Mountains", and even "Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)" proves reasonably groovy if you can get past a handful of eyeroll-worthy lyrics. You want some classic Arcade Fire shoot-for-the-Moon bombast? Dig the stadium-ready lead single "The Lightning", crackling with warm, Spielbergian emotion in a way that finally lets the band embrace their comfortable, middle-aged adulthood without forgetting the energy of their youth. You want trite, sniffy mellow gold faff? The “End of the Empire” suite is, uhh, also here! This may well be the group’s most sonically diverse outing yet, for good and for ill; even on the many occasions it isn’t convincing, it often manages enough novelty to entertain nonetheless, and Nigel Godrich's impeccable production job certainly makes the whole affair easy on the ears.
asserts Arcade Fire’s dominance over their amorphous influencesphere as decisively as it asserts that they have very little of interest or import to say about pretty much anything. They have always been best at delivering big feelings in obvious, uncomplicated ways, and (on paper at least) they still have everything necessary to do so. As with 2017’s Everything Now
, their musical missteps hurt far less than their insistence on being such exhausting buzzkills, willing to lecture us about the evils of mass media but unwilling to find any remotely interesting angle to do so from. Even as they reaffirm their gifts for personal drama and catharsis, Arcade Fire remains a band in search of real convictions, too out-of-touch for too long to convincingly portray ordinary people, listlessly trotting out flat Banksyisms while the crowd waits for the next big chorus. I guess we'll just have to adjust…