It was a quiet, friendly exit. Will Butler wrote on Twitter in mid-March that he had left the band Arcade Fire. There was no specific reason for this, he simply changed, as did the group that had existed for almost two decades. “Time for something new,” wrote Butler.
The multi-instrumentalist and younger brother of singer Win Butler also contributed to Arcade Fire’s sixth album, which has just been released. When listening to “WE”, his decision to leave becomes even more understandable, because the 40-minute work represents a return to the old strengths of the band, which had already become famous with their debut album “Funeral” from 2004, but does not open up any perspectives, which point to an exciting further development.
The ego as a fearful creature
If Will Butler wants to try something new, he’s at the wrong place with the group founded by his brother and sister-in-law Régine Chassagne in Montreal and still led today – the experiments are long since behind them.
Now it’s all about presenting the indie rock amalgam you’ve gained along the way as finely as possible, celebrating your own maturity. This claim is already reflected in the information provided that the album title refers to the novel of the same name by the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1920.
In it, the author, who influenced George Orwell, among others, paints a picture of a 26th-century surveillance state in which everything is geared toward the collective and individuals count for nothing. A very clear criticism of the Soviet Union, which meant that the work could not be published for the first time until 1925 – in English.
With Arcade Fire, the self to whom the first half of the album, titled “I”, is dedicated, sounds like a tormented, fear-ridden creature. The opening song “Age Of Anxiety I” gropes its way into a dark description of the soul and time over an enigmatic bass synthesizer pounding, into which a small piano motif and a beaten acoustic guitar throw some rays of light.
About halfway through, the almost five and a half minute piece restarts, the bass finally moves, a beat and strings are added to help exorcise demons: “Gotta get the spirit out of me/ This anxiety that’s inside of me”, sing Régine Chassagne and Win Butler. In part two of the Anxiety saga, Arcade Fire fall into a “Rabbit Hole”, are inspired by Giorgio Moroder and Anne Clark and tell tales of a burning Acropolis, the apocalypse in Arcadia and a plastic soul.
They don’t have it any smaller – this thought also comes to mind in the ballad “End Of Empire I – III”, which briefly uses John Lennon’s “Imagine” and escalates into a shamelessly hymn-like chorus in which you can already hear the cell phone lights sees the sea waving in the large arenas on the upcoming tour.
Recorded in the past two years of the pandemic, it was perhaps the longing for moments like this that made the band think about their overwhelming sound on “WE”. He also characterizes the second, much more positive half of the record, which opens with the songs “The Lightning I” and “The Lightning II”, which evoke the cohesion of two or more people so euphorically and blissfully that it’s difficult is not to be carried away by it.
[„WE“ erscheint bei Columbia/Sony. Konzert: 29.9., Mercedes-Benz-Arena, Berlin]
This part of the record is dedicated to the we, the sense of community, the family. Collectivity is not the enemy of individuality, but a source of hope. The fear-ridden self can find support in her. The collective spirit has always been important to the band in their stage shows and videos, with the heart of Arcade Fire clearly being Régine Chassagne and Win Butler.
The couple also produced WE with Nigel Godrich. It was recorded in different studios when making music together was possible again. One song is dedicated to the couple’s son, who is encouraged to follow his heart. The chorus is just do-do-do-dos, but the boy will understand that his parents are sending him a message of love. Especially since the piece is called “Unconditional I”.
Part II is the only song with Régine Chassagne’s lead vocals – and the clearest reference to the dance-rock side of the band. A late highlight of the album, featuring Peter Gabriel on guest vocals. It’s just a shame that he didn’t advise the band against the refrain lines “I’ll be your race and religion/ You’ll be my race and religion/ This love is no competition”.
Even if race and religion are two crossing streets in New Orleans, where the couple lives – it sounds wrong when sung. It won’t matter to the fans in the stadium, the joy of finding We should outshine any nonsense.