Arcade Fire


JR Moores considers self-immolation listening to the new Arcade Fire record…

When I was younger, some vandals set fire to an arcade near where we lived. It burned brightly at first and then just stank of ash.

Don’t get me wrong, the proprietors pumped a lot of money into it. The business expanded its operations. It kept attracting more and more customers. Still, none of the successive refurbs quite expunged that lingering ash-stench.

The bloke who I assume ran the joint, I heard his father was in oil, he started turning up for work in neon sunglasses. He would point and sneer at the kids there who he felt spent too long prodding at their smartphones, wasting precious time that could’ve been spent pushing coins through his insatiable slots. It was all a bit rich, seeing as the bloke himself had agreed advertisement deals with at least two tech giants. He’d be moaning about the interweb one minute, pushing cryptocurrency the next.

It had once felt like a place – an alternative, secular church, even – for the misfit indie kids and other cultural waifs and strays to hang out. Then people from the next-door Apple Store kept popping in. Though he’d mutter under his breath about Blueteeth and dongles, the manager in the shades seemed quietly delighted. My friends and I went off the place. It felt increasingly corporate and soulless. We decided to return to an older, fustier, more homely company: Godspeed You! Black Entertainments.

Incidentally, there’s this Americanadian band who’ve got a new album out. It’s called WE, which implies a sense of collective unity. But you only have to rotate one of its letters and it soon spells ME. It opens with a piano motif that could’ve come straight from Chris Martin’s candle-scented fingers. The matching vocals are so annoyingly whispered, they practically qualify as ASMR. Halfway through, the song changes tack and starts courting the modern market for anxiety pop. Its sequel, ‘Age Of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)’ follows a similar formula. Thom Yorke ivory chords for the appetiser (Nigel Godrich is co-producing, after all.) Chromatics ennui-at-the-disco for the pumping main course.

For what it’s worth, the record gets a little more rousing later on when, on ‘The Lightning I, II’, it shows greater concern that the musicians’ erstwhile claim to Springsteen’s throne has already been stolen from under their noses by Sam “young pretender” Fender. ‘Unconditional II’ is an infectiously giddy love song, even if its idea that “I’ll be your race and religion” is a rather clunky way of articulating devotion to a romantic partner.

‘End Of The Empire’ is the smuggest song here. This four-part suite fancies itself as a damning and sophisticated critique of Uncle Sam. Its narrator witnesses the demise of American global dominance while “feeling uninspired”. You can say that again. “I unsubscribe”, “fuck Season Five”, "”he algorithm prescribed”… Makes you think! More specifically, it makes you think, “Does this sound like a needy Mercury Rev, a ham-fisted Grandaddy, or Wings without the easy-going self-awareness?” Lines like “your heroes are selling you underwear” would cut deeper, satirically speaking, if this same group hadn’t decided to flog us the aural equivalent of industrially manufactured, ash-stained, short-lasting pants several albums ago.

When I was younger, some vandals set fire to an arcade near where we lived. It might have been an inside job.

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