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Smackdown: Arcade Fire

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

True to their namesake, Arcade Fire are a hot commodity: the Montreal ensemble knocked Eminem off the number-one spot on the Billboard albums chart with their new disc The Suburbs. But not everyone is moved by the band's hyper-dramatic anthems and onstage theatrics.

We’ll turn the heat up on Arcade Fire in a Soundcheck Smackdown; guests include Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards and Time Out New York music writer Sophie Harris.

Tell us: What do you think of Arcade Fire and their new album? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Today's Playlist:

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

2. Arcade Fire - Ready to Start

3. Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #2 (Laika)

4. Arcade Fire - Rococo

5. Arcade Fire - No Cars Go

6. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)


Sophie Harris and Chris Richards

Comments [53]

will from summit, new jersey

Well, i think Arcade Fire is definitley one of the better if not the best bands of the 21st century, at least in Rock music. This album is undoubtedly their best effort yet. It's a completley accurate depiction of the suburbs, i would know, i'm growing up in them right now. I guess one could call it cliche, an album by an Indie group that disses the suburbs. However what this does have is the sense of longing, and sadness. their is a melanchalic feeling of regret, and wanting the lost youth back on the disc. Other suburban songs/albums lack that. I think suburban kids like me can relate to this, that's what makes this a good album, and what makes them a good band. If every generation has a anti-suburban album, then this is ours. And the last track, suburbs continued, never fails to send goosebumps across my body, i can never listen to that song without a shiver down my spine. Nothing can despute that for me. nothing.

Feb. 20 2011 03:20 PM

people like randall are the absolute worst. you do realize this new school indie scene filled with hipsters and faux intellectuals is just as cliche as your diatribe on the kids of today, right? get off the pedestal and realize you're just a different brand of walking cliche.

Sep. 26 2010 03:18 PM
Back from the dead

Individually, not many tracks are that compelling like they were in Neon Bible or Funeral. Unlike Neon Bible, though, this is their only album to tell a real story -- it's a very cohesive whole.
Food for thought: I think The Suburbs might actually be too subtle. The real fire is still hidden throughout. On this album, a lot of stuff might be hidden between songs as well.

Aug. 19 2010 01:40 AM

boooooooooooooooring. "dramatic style" takes more than a shaking head, jangly slightly-building instruments and well intentioned inflection. the song writing is predictable and dull. Like a cheetoh? There's a tang, but it's not suprising and rather processed.

Aug. 19 2010 12:56 AM

I went back to listen to Yankee Foxtrot Hotel by Wilco more than once after the Suburbs came out and determined that The Suburbs is a better record. Sonically, it does everything YFH does and more. Lyrically, it's as good or better. Musically, it absolutely destroys it.

Wilco are often considered one of the best "non-mainstream" bands of the past 15 years and YFH is considered by most to be their best record so the fact that the Arcade Fire released a better "Americana" record than the masters themselves should tell you a lot about how well this record will stand up over time.

The main theme of the record is this: Where's the best place to raise a family? In a city? Outside of a city? WIn Butler seems to be nostalgic about the Suburbs. He remembers the best parts of it. He remembers learning to drive and the more patient, laid back lifestyle. He remembers going through different phases with his friends. "The music divides us into tribes. You cut your hair so I cut mine." and then later... "When you cut your hair... I never saw you again." He remembers carving out an identity in the suburbs and then wonders if that's possible in a city where there's no children in it. City kids are just as cliched as anything. Most I've known aren't all that individualistic and he jokes about this on Rococo. The few kids that do grow up in the city all end up just as similar as the kids out in the Burbs. And then just as Regine seems like she's getting on board with Half Light... (remember how nice it was to walk around a grassed neighborhood with the sun setting at half light) she's reminded how the Suburban folk squandered her creavity. "They heard by singing and they told me to stop. Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock." On Sprawl II she's made up her mind. She's a city girl and she wants to remain in the city. This push/pull between them dominates the record. And between that there's the sub-themes of modern life that Butler explores on "We used to Wait" and "Modern Man."

The Suburbs is like a great book. You just have go give it a chance to win you over.

Aug. 18 2010 04:19 PM

I think that a lot of young people don't know how to react to this band because they're not familiar with a lot of Arcade Fire's musical influences. Most of the people on here sound like they listen to generic mainstream radio pop that's designed by focus group to capture your attention with autotune, overproduced melodies and choruses written by people other than the singers themselves. That kind of music is the equivalent of watching Jersey Shore/The Hills... Forced, gimmicky, meaningless and designed specifically to appeal to you by people twice your age who think they have you all figured out. And it works. You flip past MTV see a pretty blonde and if you're a girl... want to see what that lifestyle might be like. You watch Jersey Shore for the same reasons on the opposite side of the spectrum. It's all sensationalist, ADD programming designed to pull you in the same way an accident does on the highway. Well, you guys go on listening to your "Shots-shot-shots" and "Lolipop" songs while I listen to music that challenges, inspires, and moves me. Few other bands making music right now will sound relevant in another decade. These bands are going to sound like the Ace is Bases and Roxettes of the 80s and 90s. Funny in an ironic way but not the kind of thing you'd listen to sincerely. Arcade Fire will hold up the same way The Smiths, Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Talking Heads all have to people who listen to music for more than just a distraction or to kick start a party.

Aug. 18 2010 04:04 PM
Johnonymous from Michigan

To all below comments; OPEN YOUR D***ED EYES! By God, weren't The Smiths influenced? The Beatles, David Bowie, Springsteen, Talking Heads, weren't they all influenced by earlier music at ALL? I'm sorry that you think thirty seconds of one of their lead singles sounds a little too much like Echo AKA "blatant ripoff."

Sure The Suburbs isn't quite on the same level as Neon Bible or Funeral, it's a tad like their self-titled EP with a producer open to more options. To the comment on Sprawl II sounding like a dead-end; it's disco pop fantasma, some gloriescent and engaging dance song. If you don't like that, try Half Light I or II. Cul-de-sac: "FIRST THEY BUILT THE ROAD AND THEN THEY BUILT THE TOWN, THAT'S WHY WE'RE STILL DRIVING AROUND AND AROUND AND AROUND AND AROUND AND AROUND..." Jesus. Go listen to The Cure and stop telling me they're boring.

On that note, their live performance is second to almost none. Their Power Out-Rebellion segment is worth admission alone, Wake Up covers fees, and the rest of the songs are like free. Their emotion in Tunnels, their darkness in Rococo, their playful beat in Laika, their ability to keep you awake in Modern Man (that clapping makes me lol every time I hear it live). Unless you've seen them live apart from that watered-down MSG performance, you have no room to speak.

In conclusion, Arcade Fire are the Gods of rock today. BSS and Modest Mouse are great too, but they can't quite reach that magic that AF does.

Aug. 18 2010 08:21 AM
eleni from NYC

Last comment--i promise!!

At least they give their fans the $$$ worth at shows.
they really entertain people, I can see why they convert people easily. every group has gone through this love' em vs haters smackdown--- especially the Beatles and The Rolling Stones!!! Only time can judge as to whether the band can have a life beyond itself

Aug. 17 2010 11:05 PM
eleni from NYC

OK I'm taking a position. I agree with Shawn from Brrrrooklyn. He's got the strongest argument.

I am a dissenter

Aug. 17 2010 10:52 PM
Eleni NYC from NYC

OK. I think every generation has a Beatles, Bowie, U2, Madonna, B-52's, Bjork, Clash etc. This generation has --- Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga etc..
I might be too old @42, or too jaded.

The song "Sprawl" sounds like a strange hybrid of
ABBA + Angelo Baldalamente [Twin Peaks composer] it might be the synthesizer, i'm not sure.
But I thought the B-52's perspective of suburbia was better expressed in "Private Idaho".
But I could be wrong

Aug. 17 2010 10:44 PM

Wow, talk about humorlessness. Lighten up people. I haven't listened to much of the new album, but I found Neon Bible compelling and entertaining and fun. I couldn't care less if the the hipsters out there find them an easy target to look down their noses at.

Aug. 17 2010 10:35 PM
terry from Bronx

I like the band, but the songs from the new album remind me less of coming from a band, but sound to me more like Rocky Horror Picture Show outtakes. Is that a positive or a negative?

Aug. 17 2010 10:28 PM
mpassafiume from Brooklyn

I won't go as far as saying that "The Suburbs" is much ado about nothing, but I definitely thinks it's overrated. "Funeral" and "Neon Bible" had much more depth IMHO.

Aug. 17 2010 03:33 PM
Sandra from Astoria

I really love "The Suburbs." Much like Rory's beautiful review (love the cinematic image!), it grew on me with each listen. It's got this elegiac, apocalyptic feel that perfectly suits these times.

I also agree that it sounds more like one large piece rather than individual songs (though some stick out for me, like "Modern Man" and "City with No Children").

I like it more than "Neon Bible," but maybe not as much as "Funeral," though it's coming dangerously close.

Aug. 17 2010 02:38 PM
Aidan Mohan from Lindenhurst Ny

I like 'em at least there not another Coldplay pyschediliac rip-off!

Aug. 17 2010 02:37 PM
Jack from hotlanta

Arcade's a suggestion: why don't you make a record that reflects your live show if that's what everyone is digging so much.

Aug. 17 2010 02:36 PM
Antonio Becerril from Mexico City

One of the best albums I've heard all year. Truly another great listening experience, and I love the changing sound that they posses.

It is definately an album to be listened as a whole, to dedicate some time and let it grow inside you. This is a band that should not be heard in "shuffle mode". This is an LP band.

Aug. 17 2010 02:35 PM
Lola from Canada

Beatles+Bowie=Arcade Fire? That must be why I LOVE them so much!! And I'm not just saying that because they're from my hometown :-)

Aug. 17 2010 02:34 PM
Colin from Weehawken

All the Great Bands always have one single element that makes them instantly recognizable, Bowie's voice, Talking Heads tempo, U2 guitar. One has to hear all parts of the band to recognize that its Arcade Fire.

I totally agree with the remark about that they sound like music used in commercials - used a lot in BBC shows and commercials. And the remark about James Cameron movies, forgetful after listening.

Their ok - not Great

Aug. 17 2010 02:34 PM
Colin from Weehawken

All the Great Bands always have one single element that makes them instantly recognizable, Bowie's voice, Talking Heads tempo, U2 guitar. One has to hear all parts of the band to recognize that its Arcade Fire.

I totally agree with the remark about that they sound like music used in commercials - used a lot in BBC shows and commercials. And the remark about James Cameron movies, forgetful after listening.

Their ok - not Great

Aug. 17 2010 02:33 PM

Chris is totally jealous.

Aug. 17 2010 02:33 PM
puerto rican girl from 10276

I LOVED The Funeral but The Suburbs is so boring.
The music depressing, nostalgic (in a bad) way, and actually reminds me of the suburbs and indie collegiate kids sitting around in fancy houses with professional parents listening to The Cure and feeling superior. I love The Cure, but can we move on already? Or can you post-date this record to 1997, when it would have been great?

I do think they are great live. I wish they could re-release The Funeral for the first time.

Aug. 17 2010 02:32 PM
puerto rican girl from 10276

I LOVED The Funeral but The Suburbs is so boring.
The music depressing, nostalgic (in a bad) way, and actually reminds me of the suburbs and indie collegiate kids sitting around in fancy houses with professional parents listening to The Cure and feeling superior. I love The Cure, but can we move on already? Or can you post-date this record to 1997, when it would have been great?

I do think they are great live. I wish they could re-release The Funeral for the first time.

Aug. 17 2010 02:32 PM
Jack from Astoria

Arcade Fire sucks!
It's obvious John Shaeffer digs them.
I've seen many local bands who blow them away.
See you at CMJ.

Aug. 17 2010 02:30 PM
Jen from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

When I first heard Neon Bible, I did not get it at all. Then I was dragged to a show where I saw them perform it, and I was instantly a fan. They were really powerful in person. Now, when I listen to their music I think it is really powerful, even the new album, which is not as good as Neon Bible. You need to see them live to get it.

Aug. 17 2010 02:30 PM
hunternyc from brooklyn

no one will be listening to this band in 5 years...whiney, uninspiring rock band for sad boys and girls...

Aug. 17 2010 02:30 PM

You know who's boring? Haters.

I totally hear David Byrne / Talking Heads in the song "Haiti."

Aug. 17 2010 02:30 PM
Frank Grimaldi from East Village

I watched the end of their MSG concert on-line. They did the most boring encore I've ever seen - and they accomplished it with all those people on stage. WOW

Aug. 17 2010 02:27 PM
Frank from Rahway, NJ

bad 80's new wave redone... we survived this once, i hope we can survive it again. Nothing new and unique.. Kids just don't know better.

Aug. 17 2010 02:26 PM
Ted in Atlanta from OfficespaceLand

I for one really loved Funeral and a lot of NEon Bible - don't see the irritation some of these folks have. Not the world's singularly greatest band but I tried to get tix to their show here last week and it was already sold out, so...

Aug. 17 2010 02:26 PM
Shawn from Brooklyn

Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division - and the Suburbs for that matter - did it better. Original? Coldplay and U2?? cmon people. Arcade is nostalgia for a new Wayne's World mash-up.

Aug. 17 2010 02:23 PM
pete from the moon

They sing about the bible too much, all that I hate George Bush stuff, which is fine and has it place but is tired in this day age. And also I am kinda tired of their russian peasant gear, they look like they just pop out of a joseph cornell box, dude's from texas, would it kill him to wear jeans once and awhile, maybe a cowboy hat...

Aug. 17 2010 02:23 PM

Re: Terry Gilliam, pretty sure he just did that for $ to put toward whatever underfunded project he's working on next. The show was sponsored by AmEx, perhaps they wiped out Mr. Gilliam's long overdue platinum card debt?

Aug. 17 2010 02:22 PM
Susan from Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Please tell your 'lonely man' guest he has plenty of company. I find Arcade Fire pompous and annoying. Someone gave me the CD and I loaded it into my iPod. When they come up on shuffle I consistently hit the 'next' arrow. I dont get it either.

Aug. 17 2010 02:22 PM
susy from Manhattan!

this music all sounds like the music in a commercial that's designed to make you feel all cool and indie even when you're not.

it's like urban outfitters.

it's so sad that something so banal could be so polarizing, today.

Aug. 17 2010 02:21 PM
MK from originally: canada

I had to contribute in the hopes that we may spare the world another radiohead :lol:

BLAND PAP. They had one nice single a few years ago but since then, as far as I can tell, have not found the talent, inspiration or *personality* to do anything more -- I cannot imagine making it thru a whole album. YEECCH.

"They have changed modern music" -- is that some kind of joke? I totally agree w/ the Chris dude vis, it's humourless melodrama.

Aug. 17 2010 02:21 PM

Omg Neko... didn't know they had a CD player at Mars bar...

Aug. 17 2010 02:21 PM
Lou Netter

This band is practically alone commenting on our modern dystopia. The airy, Beach Boys flavored music of the moment seems out of step with what is, as Arcade Fire explores, an uncertain time. Also, they are angry and more importantly dissapointed. I think they are seeing their moment in time with clear eyes.

Aug. 17 2010 02:20 PM
Gwen from My office

Should I be embarrassed to admit that I've never heard of them until today?

Aug. 17 2010 02:20 PM

What about how they are ripping off Echo and the

Aug. 17 2010 02:18 PM
Jack from hotlanta

Had my fill of that Steely Dan vocal sound years ago.

Aug. 17 2010 02:18 PM
Mitchell from Manhattan

I agree with Chris that the melodies are forgettable, literally. Their sound is nothing special despite what the message might be and since we're speaking about MUSIC shouldn't that be an important issue?

Aug. 17 2010 02:18 PM

I definitely don't HATE the sound when I hear it, I listened to their first two a few times, they were perfectly fine records. But when I read the nytimes profile, for example, and they think they're preserving authenticity in a plastic world, blah blah, and then Bono enters the scene to say some garbage about how AF is the only true thing, an island of goodness in a musical sea of disposability, that sort of thing is a major turn off. They're just a decent band, very professional, their lyrics are precious and, at their worst, cringe-worthy. And so on. So basically they get a big 'who cares' from me.

Aug. 17 2010 02:18 PM
Ken from Little Neck

My first (and happily only) exposure to Arcade Fire was on the Daily Show recently and I had three reactions, in this order:

1. Huh?
2. Why is this band twice as big as they need to be (two drum sets, really?)
3. Please make it stop.

Aug. 17 2010 02:14 PM
Frank from Rahway, NJ

Sounds like very porrly done Morrisey and the Smiths which is unsufferable enough... Boring, dross and quite obnoxious

Aug. 17 2010 02:13 PM
eligit from astoria

it is interesting.
from what i can tell the ability of this band to write interesting melodies, play instruments well, or sing well is very limited.
and yet....their energy seems to communicate well in a live setting and it seems to communicate in a very effective way with an audience. In fact the lack of raw musical skill seems to be key to their audience tho anyone in the audience could step on stage and sing along. simple phrases repeated over and over can be very effective in this way.
It is an interesting case study.

Aug. 17 2010 02:12 PM
Jeremy from Upper East Side / Upper West Side

As a fan of live music, I am feeling slightly torn with my dislike -- or at least disinterest -- in Arcade Fire. I just find their music to be "cold" and "impersonal." Forced, in a way. It does not fill me with any sort of warm emotion.

On the other hand, if we were to look at large Canadian conglomerates, I much prefer Broken Social Scene, who fill their music and live experiences with joy, happiness, dancing, and a freedom that I just do not get in Arcade Fire's (studio) offerings.

Aug. 17 2010 02:04 PM
Alexandra from New York

Really? A Smackdown on whether Arcade Fire is a good band? In light of Lady Gaga's crusade for gay marriage and Wyclef Jean's run for president of Haiti, why don't we talk about the viability of pop stars using their celebrity for politics and political issues?

Aug. 17 2010 01:57 PM
Minfred Washington from Red Hook, BKLYN

This band is a total hoax, which, as P.T. Barnum, told us, is easiest to perpetrate on the largest groups of people possible. With their ripoff shouting stolen from Big Country, their guitar effects lifted from U2, and their multiinstrumentalism a cheap ploy to seem, "worldy," there is little to this "cool looking" group of "friends" from the Great White North besides the kind of energy that appeals to summer festival crowds. When it comes to songwriting, look elsewhere.

Aug. 17 2010 12:49 PM
hikia from sat roo

aliright alread with the smackdowns and saying "aigght" and repeating the same promos a zialllion times john

Aug. 17 2010 12:20 PM
Paulie from New York

We're all eager to criticize heavy-handed art that critics love (see Inception). So I think we should be weary of people who are ready to scream "this band sucks".

JShatan mentions Sprawl II and the condescension inherent in it. While I'm sick of the Springsteen comparisons, and I'm not sure I have the wit to put this right, this point seems valid: If Sprawl II is condescending, so is Born to Run.

One thing is for sure: The Flaming Lips > The Arcade Fire, so maybe there's something we can gather from Wayne Coyne's comments on the band: “They really treat people like s***....I don’t care if it’s Arcade Fire or Brian Eno. If either of them walked into a room and treated people like s*** I’d be like, ‘F*** you, get outta here.’...They have good tunes, but they’re pricks, so f*** ‘em."

Aug. 16 2010 01:47 PM

When I hear the words "hurdy gurdy" I want to reach for my revolver. So I'm not a fan. This record starts off less annoying and more ordinary than their first two. By the time the Heart Of Glass rip of Sprawl II comes along, it seems obvious that the band has arrived at a cul de sac (pun intended).

Also, the first commenter mentions the lives of "unremarkable, everyday people" - where does that leave Win & Will Butler, who grew up in the suburbs and obviously think that they themselves are quite remarkable? I think that superior attitude is all over this record and I don't quite know how people can stand it.

Finally, this band does some things well musically but what it does not do well is "rawk" and the uptempo songs are ungainly to say the least. Two stars for effort.

Aug. 13 2010 07:20 AM
Rory from Sudbury, UK.

My initial response was: Unimpressed. Sixteen tracks! Give me a break. I thought the songs were insipid and bland. There were some "nice" melodies, but on the whole, "So What." I skipped through it: Nothing, nope, nothing, nothing.

When I found myself humming the songs a couple of days later, I thought I had better go back and give it another listen. I started from track one and sat through the whole hour, and fell in love with it.

Although the live show treats the tracks as individual entities, I think it works best as one piece. It is obviously a concept; the title, the artwork, the theme. Even the nature of the songs - no particular standouts, all relying on a repetitive, cyclical construct - seems purposeful. It fits in with the whole notion of the suburbs: Magnolia walls; vapid, flat and characterless; the sprawl.

I imagined fourteen suburban houses, bookended by the repeated title track. Two of them semi-detached - Half Light and Sprawl. The repeated title track leads us in and leads us out. I could see it being filmed in one unbroken take, the camera taking us into each house, into each room, into the lives of unremarkable, everyday people and families. And so songs fade in and fade out, or they blend seamlessly from one into the next. They could be unfinished, they could go on and on, because such is life.

I have yet to sit down with the lyric book, but I feel sure it will only reinforce my view - already I have heard similar words and phrases repeated in more than one song.

So, there it is. That's my take. Sixteen songs? Pfft! Now it doesn't seem like enough.

Aug. 13 2010 05:12 AM

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