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CD of The Week

Week of 5/09/22

    Arcade Fire - WE (Columbia)

    Since their debut in 2004, one could argue that Arcade Fire have made a career out of playing against the hallmarks that “define” them. This mindset has made them one of the most unique modern rock bands in recent memory. It is a rare thing that a major label act takes the kind of artistic risks that Arcade Fire has. And, regardless of their relative quality, a band willing to explore is never a bad thing. For their sixth album WE,the band creates a mixtape of everything that has come before and a taste of what is to come. Perhaps by trying to please everyone they will please no one. But that has never been the point of the band or their music.

    The album is presented in movements. Featuring a catchy piano hook, “Age of Anxiety I” opens the album in grand fashion. The song starts quietly and then takes a big turn midway both in tempo and feeling. A trademark of their sound has always been songs that sound bigger than any physical media can contain, and this song is just begging for a sold-out audience. Next up is the seemingly quieter “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole).” The quiet does not last long as the slow build dance-pop beat erupts over the tune’s nearly 7-minute duration.

    Content and concept bigger than a piece of vinyl can be a blessing and curse. So much is packed into each song that it is a little tough to figure out the narrative flow of the album. The next movement featured is “End of the Empire I-IV.” It conjures up similar feelings to the song cycle that closes out The BeatlesAbbey Road. However, this “ending” comes right in the middle of the record, and can’t help but feel a little misplaced. The sound is big, the orchestrations are lush, and the ambition is there. Despite all those positives, it’s an odd detour that feels more like a separate EP was dropped right in the middle of the album.

    After that roundabout though, the record quickly finds its footing again. “The Lightning I” and “The Lighting II” pump some adrenaline into the record with a sound that recaptures the energy and drama of their earlier works. The tender “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” comes next and is a highlight. It's a sweet lullaby that sees Win Butler taking on the feelings of being a parent and sharing words of wisdom. “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” has RĂ©gine Chassagne on lead vocals and features a nice assist from Peter Gabriel toward the end. More electronic and synth-heavy, it uses race and religion as composite characters for giving yourself “body and soul” to a partner and features some nice dual vocals between Butler and Chassagne (who are married and share a 9-year-old son).

    By the time the album closes with the title track, what is clear is that Arcade Fire tried with all their collective might to reclaim it with this collection of songs. What the “it” is likely differs from bandmate to bandmate and listener to listener. Do not let a soggy middle distract from the quality present on the opposing halves. Still though, with an open mind and open ears, the music presented on WE still elicits the same energy, drama, and intrigue that made us all take notice of them way back when.

    See the return of Arcade Fire's larger than life show on November 1st at The Waterfront Music Pavilion.
    Review by Keith Obaza

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