Thursday, June 9, 2022

Ranking the albums of Arcade Fire

Ca. 2013: Richard Reed Parry, Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufeld, Jeremy Gara

Arcade Fire's latest LP, We, has been out in the world for a few weeks now. In case you missed it, I did a video review of it last month over on Geezerology's YouTube channel.

In a nutshell, I did like the album quite a bit but slammed the consensus critical assessment that We was a return to form or a comeback album for Arcade Fire.

My biggest objection to that critical mindset was that it had more to do with a misguided perception of Arcade Fire's previous output than it did with the substance of the new album.

That review was my early reaction to We, back when I was still giddy from excitement over new material from Arcade Fire. Now that I've had a little more time to digest this record, I decided to come back here to the blog and give We some perspective as a longtime fan of this band.

To do that, I spent some time in the past few weeks with all six Arcade Fire albums. Here they are, ranked in order from my least favorite:

6. Everything Now (2017):
In my video review of We, I hinted that I thought the biggest problem with Everything Now was that it was generally misunderstood. A few weeks and a couple of close listens later,  my estimation of this album has deteriorated. My feeling on this one now is a little closer to the critical consensus than it was before. I still don't think it's an artistic disaster -- it's pretty much the album I believe the band wanted to make. But it is kind of a mess. Too many well-intentioned experiments didn't really work, and the LP seems more scattered and unfocused than anything else Arcade Fire has ever done. But when you get right down to it, Everything Now is still worth pulling out of the dustbin now and then to give a new listen to that opening title track. I really like that song. It was a contender for my list of my 10 favorite Arcade Fire songs but missed the cut. That track alone makes this album worthwhile.

5. Reflektor (2013):
Reflektor is the one Arcade Fire album that I can honestly say I have no plans to listen to again. There is nothing on this album that pleases my ears. But I do have mad respect for it, enough that I can't in good conscience rank it lower than Everything Now. There is a certain segment of the Arcade Fire audience out there that love this album, and they should. Reflektor was such a ballsy move by this band, a sharp right turn into something completely different than the band's growing fan base was expecting. The band had a message to send with its deep dive into electronica and Haitian festival music, and it was loud and clear. Arcade Fire did lose a bit of its fan base with Reflektor but at the same time widened the tent and brought in a whole new set of listeners that were deeply moved by this material. Give 'em huge props for this one, even if you don't find Reflektor particularly listenable.

4. The Suburbs (2010):
I struggled a bit placing this one, kept going back and forth between No. 3 and No. 4. This is the album the catapulted Arcade Fire to mainstream success, and rightfully so. It's a marvelously sweet, sprawling ode to the best memories of all of our past lives. It was the band's first of three straight No. 1 albums in the US (the second of four straight in Canada). It was a surprise Grammy Awards winner for Album Of The Year. And it produced two of the best music videos the Internet has seen in quite awhile -- the Spike Jonze-directed "The Suburbs" and the interactive sensation "We Used To Wait," designed to show off the Google Chrome web browser and Google Maps' Street View. (I just checked it out. It works a lot better now than it did in the old days.) I loved this album when I first heard it. I'm less enamored of it now. It's on the long side, and it gets a little bogged down in the middle act.

3. We (2022):
I knew pretty much from the first time I listened to it that We was going to land in the middle. My biggest struggle with placing this one was whether to put it a shade above or behind The Suburbs. I opted to go this way, above, because it is a bit more focused than The Suburbs. Clearly, the songs on We are the most introspective ones Win Butler has written. And they are good, thoughtful songs. We is the self-assured work of a band that has matured into adulthood and accepted the responsibility that goes with being rock kingpins. This one heralded that there's still a lot of gas in the Arcade Fire tank.

2. Neon Bible (2007):
Arcade Fire's second LP is a solid No. 2 on my list. It was the band's first big commercial success, landing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 on the strength of Arcade Fire's growing reputation as a breathtaking live act. A creative interactive marketing campaign also helped. The band bought a 19th-century church building in Quebec and converted it to a recording studio for this album. You can smell the grandiosity of that place listening to this record. There's a weird dichotomy of hope and despair in the music here, even more pronounced than it was on the band's debut. Butler establishes himself as a powerhouse writer on this record with songs such as "Intervention," "Windowsill," and "My Body Is A Cage."

1. Funeral (2004):
Nothing in Arcade Fire's catalog has matched the sheer power of Funeral. This thing is a beast. About half the songs on this LP -- three of the "Neighborhood" songs in the first half ("Tunnels," "Laika" and "Power Out") and the two monster anthems on the back side ("Wake Up" and "Rebellion (Lies)") -- are gutpunches. The rest of the album is pretty damn good, weakened only by comparison to the high highs and a slightly muddy, low-budget production. But that's really nitpicky. I am willing to stick my neck out and say this is the best album I have heard in the 21st century. Nothing else in my experience even approaches this. Buy it, listen to it now. You can thank me later. 


  1. Hi, we share the same feelings about Funeral - best album this century!

  2. Nice reviews. I do concur that there is no other album that has come even close to hitting me on an emotive level as Funeral. It's amongst the top five albums that influenced me as a musician and came out at just the perfect time for me as a dongwriter


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