Canadian indie-pop behemoth Arcade Fire has always over-egged the omelette, throwing too much at everything: too many band members for a start. Here’s a husband and wife to write and perform the songs and make out like there’s mystique/energy/dynamism in the very writing, some real-life experiment or something and then to sing them flat and serious. Add a couple of people to push and poke and prod towards percussion – the rest of the gang are there, presumably, to add weight to a photo shoot, to scratch asses (their own) or kiss asses (mostly Win Butler’s you’d have to guess).
And then there are the arrangements; too many things going on, all to distract from the fact that – actually – nothing is happening. They just can’t justify the numbers, they don’t need the players they have, they don’t use them for anything approaching good.
The first album was dishwater-dull, the second had something resembling a spark – but it never lasted. The third excruciating drivel, a “concept album” for the entitled few so sure that Douglas Coupland is John Steinbeck or something similarly absurd; each album feels longer than the one it follows too – they drag. They crawl.
This one – the band’s fourth, and I would think worst/joint-worst – is a double. But it’s that faux-double, the Claytons double-album – a muscle-flex thing, the smart idea would have been to just trim a song and make it a long-long single disc (like they did last time). Ah, but there’s the rub: to do that you’d have to find a song.
Arcade Fire’s career to date seems to be an exercise in remaking the music of Talking Heads but being sure to strip it of anything vital; no edges please – we want dull. This music, so profoundly un-funky is almost an insult to music.
Mr LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy, lends some of his old act’s sound to this album – most notably on Porno, a song that feels a bit like something Paul McCartney would reject. It’s surely some cosmic irony that the best song on this record is one called Awful Sound. Again, I think of McCartney here – I imagine him working with a slightly-trimmed Polyphonic Spree (something I never actually wanted to imagine, so thanks for that Win Butler you cunt!)
But beyond that – there’s nothing. I mean the song Afterlife, if it didn’t have Murphy’s neon-lit caffeinated buzz, dulled a touch by percussion that sounds like a faulty propeller, it could just be something Jakob Dylan forgot to record when he was driving home on one headlight.
I’ve always assumed that Arcade Fire fans like to think they’ve found something that’s ever so slightly out there. Because perhaps normally there’s very (very) straight music in their lives and this seems just a little bit bent.
And that’s not meant as any insult – just my attempt to understand music that baffles me with its laziness; its hands-in-pockets band members, its not-even-navel-gazing insular blandness, that sound you do hear not ever lasting longer than the song as it plays out, nothing to take home, nothing hanging on in your ears, rattling your brain, begging for a repeat.
Win Butler’s “songs” – and I feel I need to use the inverted commas because try as I did I never heard anything much that felt like a song on this album, same with The Suburbs (a really horrible record; a stupid record in fact) – are not clever. I’m almost incensed that not just someone out there but thousands of someones – thousands of people – are so fully on board with this, so sure that Jesus Camp-like they’re hearing something special, something moving, something powerful, something clever, something sharp.
I don’t hear anything approaching any of those things. I hear music that is dressed up to seem profound, music with long intros, and outros, with just-competent jam-moments that flake away without ever getting funky. And I hear far too many fucking bongos.
I’ll be laughed at for days of course – until someone finds a new favourite thing to disagree with – but I reckon this is the band’s real shark-jump moment that The Suburbs only hinted toward. This album is too long and with only one almost-decent song across two discs that’s a poor strike rate by anyone’s standards, surely.
I would call it a joke, an embarrassment, a blowout, a load of shit. But in fact it’s just one more.