It's hard to maintain a romantic relationship. To do so within the confines of a Rock group is damn near impossible. There's no shortage of couples whose love life has bit the dust in a band. Yet lovers continue to tempt fate.
Win Butler heard Regine Chassange sing Jazz standards at an art exhibition at Montreal's Concordia University. He liked what he heard, and saw. Soon Win and Regine were a couple (they later married). From this pairing Arcade Fire came into being with Butler (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric 12-string guitar, piano, synthesizer, bass guitar), Chassagne (vocals, accordion, recorder, piano, synthesizer, xylophone, drums, percussion), Howard Bilerman (guitar, drums), Richard Reed Parry (accordion, piano, organ, synthesizer, xylophone, double bass, percussion) and Win's kid brother William (synthesizer, xylophone, bass, percussion).
An interesting and not totally irrelevant piece of trivia concerning the Butler brothers is that they are the grandsons of Swing-era ('40s-'50s) bandleader/songwriter Alvino Rey. Obviously, musical talent runs in the family.
Arcade Fire's self-titled EP came out in '03. A little over a year later the group's full-length debut "Funeral" arrived.
Named after cult author John Kennedy Toole's first novel, "Neon Bible," Arcade Fire's sophomore album was released in March, '07.
Every now and then, Bruce Springsteen goes acoustic. It allows him to tell intimate stories celebrating the struggles and little victories that make life, even on the downside of the American dream, worthwhile. He tries for a revival meeting but usually comes up with a street corner serenade. Many thought that the next time he was in his troubadour mood, Springsteen should front Arcade Fire. That's exactly what happened in '07 when Arcade Fire joined Springsteen onstage during his encore in Ottawa. For a rare moment the "new Dylan" of the '70's had the support worthy of his reach.
'07 was a good year for indie Rock. Albums by The Shins, Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire landed in the upper reaches of the Billboard 200. Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," which was predominately recorded in a renovated Quebec church the band had purchased, made its debut at #2 on the chart (Behind Notorious B.I.G.'s "Greatest Hits").
Of course, there are glitches. "Intervention," was to be released on iTunes to support the Haitian charity organization Partners In Health but "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" was uploaded by mistake. Though the error was quickly corrected both songs were now "out there."
"Neon Bible" was named the second best album of the year by Spin while Rolling Stone slotted at #4. The set was also awarded a Canadian platinum certificate for sales in excess of 100,000 copies.
The Neon Bible tour came to an end in February, '08 - following 122 shows in 75 cities and 19 countries. Then it was off to play numerous free concerts in support of presidential candidate, Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
A re-recorded version of "Wake Up" appeared in the trailer for the Spike Jonze film Where The Wild Things Are and in NFL promo spots during Super Bowl 2010 - won by the New Orleans Saints, if that matters. The band donated the proceeds from the NFL song licensing to the charity Partners In Health, which does matter.
Arcade Fire ventured to "The Suburbs" later in the year. The band's fourth album was produced by Markus Dravs, who also worked on tracks for "Neon Bible." The album earned countless accolades including the Album of the Year trophy at the 53rd Grammy Awards (in '11).
But that was just the beginning. "The Suburbs" won Best International Album, and Arcade Fire won the Award for Best International Group at the 2011 BRIT Awards (England). At the '11 Juno Awards (Canada), the group picked up Group of the Year, Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. As if that weren't enough Arcade Fire also received the Polaris Prize, which celebrates creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music.
Arcade Fire recorded "Abraham's Daughter" for "The Hunger Games" soundtrack ("The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 And Beyond"). The song was featured in the movie's end credits and the '12 soundtrack debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 selling more than 175,000 copies in its first week. Arcade Fire also contributed the ominous Panem national anthem, "Horn of Plenty," to the movie's original score, "The Hunger Games: Original Motion Picture Score." "It's not a pop song or anything," said Butler. "More of an anthem that could be playing at a big sporting event like the (Hunger") Games."
Arcade Fire announced in early '13 that they were selling the church they had been using as a studio due to a collapsed roof. As a result their fourth album, "Reflektor," was recorded in several studios.
Prior to the album's release, Arcade Fire appeared on The Colbert Report as the 'Reflektors'. During the pre-performance interview, host Stephen Colbert jokingly told Winn and Will Butler, "I'm just glad you're not like Arcade Fire, though. Those guys: kind of pretentious." The Butlers laughed off the dig and performed "Normal Person."
Next up, Will Butler issued his debut solo album "Policy" in '15.
2007 Neon Bible
2010 The Suburbs
The '80s are alive and well, thank you. The Cure, Roxy Music, Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, though successful, were never immensely popular but their influence continues to surface. On "Funeral," Arcade Fire, riding the cerebral yet anxious Wave ethos, combines airy, ethereal guitars with quaking vocals. A lilting accordion or synthesizer laces it all together.
A din of acoustic instruments echo as Butler's vocals comes dangerously close to channeling Springsteen, both sonically and lyrically. There's the Rockabilly influenced "Keep The Car Running" and the big churchy organ on "Intervention." The sense of uplift is undeniable. Maybe it's the Canadian influence.
While the title track plods, it's the only real missteps on "Neon Bible." The uptempo songs, "Keep The Car Running," the quirky '80s Wave derivative "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," "The Well And The Lighthouse" and "No Cars Go" put the album over.
"Intervention" has, thanks to the organ, a churchy feeling while "Ocean Noise" channels Chris Isaak during his "Wicked Game" era. The set opener "Black Mirror" has a haunting yet captivating mood.
When a band has praise heaped on them from the very beginning there's a tendency to be wary. The hype can't possibly equal the talent. But "The Suburbs" shows there is no reason for anyone to hold back. This album is yet another stunning example of the band's brilliance.
Arcade Fire is comfortingly familiar ("The Suburbs" and "Wasted Hours"), dreamy ("Rococo") and Rock n' Roll (the guttural "Ready To Start," "Empty Room" and the set's most immediate track, "Month Of May"). And of course there are the Springsteen flourishes on "City With No Children" and "Half Light II," which sounds like The Boss fronting Depeche Mode - which actually works. Then "Sprawl II" gives Chassagne a perfect synth-pop showcase.
"Reflektor" is the inevitable misstep. But it's relatively confined and not fatal.
One of the all-time tired cliches is saying a two disc set would have made an excellent single album. Actually, Disc 1 of "Reflektor" is great but not even channeling the '70s John Lennon on the ballad "Here Comes The Night Time II" can save Disc 2, which ventures way too deep into synth pop and other equally pretentious ventures (see Colbert above). So let's focus on Disc 1.
The title track and "We Exist" have a rhythmic groove that can't be denied. "Flashbulb Eyes" could have been a Lennon "Double Fantasy" track. "Normal Person" handles the tension and release expertly while "You Already Know" is pure bouncy pop.