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Music / Arcade Fire

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"You can't watch your own image and also look yourself in the eye."
Arcade Fire, "Black Mirror"

Arcade Fire are a Canadian indie rock band formed in Montreal in 2001 by Texan ex-pat Win Butler (then a student at Concordia University in Montreal) and his Haitian-Québécois then-girlfriend (now wife) Régine Chassagne (then a student at crosstown rival McGill University). Although their numbers can swell to ten on tour, the core band consists of seven musicians (most multi-instrumentalists): Butler (lead vocals, guitar) Chassagne (drums, accordion, vocals, everything), Richard Reed Parry (guitar, everything), Jeremy Gara (drums), Tim Kingsbury (bass), Win's brother Will Butler (keyboards, synth) and violinist Sarah Neufeld.

Since the release of their debut album Funeral in 2004, the band has emerged as one of the most prominent indie rock outfits this side of 2000, garnering near-unanimous critical favour, and acquiring a reputation for dynamic live shows as well as several famous fans. Bono and David Byrne have both sung their praises, and they've performed live with David Bowie, U2, and Bruce Springsteen. Arcade Fire are known for changing their sound between albums and once even between an EP and album, which always splits their fanbase.

Vote for your favourite Arcade Fire album by heading over to the Best Album Crowner!

Studio and Live Discography:

  • Arcade Fire (2003)
  • Funeral (2004)
  • Live EP (Live At Fashion Rocks) note  (2005)
  • Neon Bible (2007)
  • The Suburbs (2010)
  • Reflektor (2013)
  • Everything Now (2017)
  • WE (2022)

Tropes associated with Arcade Fire include:

  • An Aesop:
    • The point of "(Antichrist Television Blues)" is that overzealous Stage Dads are bad.
    • "Intervention" is about how using religion to justify violence and intimidate people into giving you their money is bad.
  • After the End: "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)".
  • Album Title Drop: Even discounting the two title tracks, The Suburbs is full of this.
    • To be fair, the album's setting does take place in the suburbs, so it's not a excuse to drop the title of it repeatedly.
    • While the band formed in Canada, Win Butler and his brother and band-mate William were born and raised in the suburbs note  of Houston, Texas (particularly The Woodlands). Regine Chassagne, on the other hand, was born and raised in the suburbs of Montréal.
  • Alternative Dance: Since The Suburbs the band have slowly began to drift into this territory, eventually being consolidated with the more dance-orientated efforts Reflektor and Everything Now.
  • An Aesop: "The Well and the Lighthouse" is based off of one of Aesop's fables.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: "Crown of Love."
  • Arc Words: "The kids" throughout the band's works, "the neighbourhood/neighbours" in Funeral, "the suburbs" in, well, The Suburbs. The phrase "can you see me" is also repeated several times in Reflektor, as is the term "reflective age".
    • The shared titles of the two "Half Light" songs, the two "Sprawl" songs and the two "The Lightning" songs also serve as this for both pairs.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Rebellion (Lies)," "Intervention," "No Cars Go," "Wake Up."
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Just try and count how many times some variation on the phrase "the kids" appear. Taken up to eleven with The Suburbs.
  • Band of Relatives: Type 1. Win and Will Butler, of course. Also, Win and Régine are married.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The French lyrics. Since they formed in Quebec, and Régine hails from (and sings about) Haiti, it would probably be unwise to call it gratuitous.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "In the Backseat" is this for Funeral. It comes at the end of an album that features childhood as a recurring theme, and "In the Backseat" is about growing up.
    • More than that, "In the Backseat" is about death as well, reconnecting to the album's title. The 'backseat' may be be taken as the backseat of a family car, or the 'backseat' of a hearse. The lyric "I've been learning to drive/My whole life" can also be taken two ways: passage from childhood into adulthood, and passage from life into whatever comes next. In that sense, the "Alice"—who is mentioned in the song to have died—could be either the singer herself, singing about herself, or someone who the singer was close to. Both interpretations are equally valid and equally bittersweet.
    • "My Body is a Cage" is a more triumphant but still bittersweet finale for Neon Bible.
    • "The Suburbs (Continued)" (the last song on The Suburbs) continues the themes of "In the Backseat" in a more direct way:
    If I could have it back
    All the time that I wasted
    I'd only waste it again
    I'd waste it again, again, again.
  • Call-and-Response Song: "Rebellion (Lies)"
  • Call-Back: The songs from The Suburbs have a lot of these, connecting the characters and settings of each song to another. There's even a call back to Neon Bible: In "(Antichrist Television Blues)" (from the latter album), the narrator prays to God for a child because "I wanna put it up on the TV screen." Later, in the title track of "The Suburbs," the narrator prays to God for a child, but for a very different reason ("I wanna show her some beauty before all this damage is done").
    • "The Suburbs" (and the album of the same name) opens with "In the Suburbs I learned to drive/and you told me we'd never survive/grab your mother's keys, we're leaving." These lines allude to the last song on Funeral (In The Backseat - "Alice died, in the night; I've been learning to drive, my whole life") and are themselves echoed more directly in the much bleaker "Suburban War."
    • In turn, the phrase "This town is so strange/they built it to change" appears in "Suburban War" and is then referred to on the even darker track "Sprawl I (Flatland)."
    • "Deep Blue" contains the line "a song from the speaker of a passing car/born from a dying star." A similar, but darker line appears in "Suburban War" as "The cities we live in could be distant stars/and I search for you in every passing car"
    • "Wasted Hours" and "Month of May" both contain the line "first they built the road/and then they built the town/and that's why we're still driving around."
    • The line "it makes me feel like something's wrong with me" in "Porno" echoes "Modern Man"'s "it makes me feel like... something don't feel right..."
    • "Windowsill" features the line "You can't forgive what you can't forget". Fastforward to the final track, "My Body Is A Cage", and it's flipped to "just because you've forgotten that doesn't mean you're forgiven".
    • "Normal Person"'s bridge is the outro of "We Exist."
    • "Awful Sound"'s line "I met you up upon a stage, our love in a reflective age" reflects the line "we fell in love, alone on a stage, in a reflective age" from "Reflektor".
  • Childless Dystopia: Used as a metaphor in "City With No Children".
  • Concept Album: All of their albums have at least shades of this:
    • Funeral focuses on aging, loss, and community.
    • Neon Bible is darker and fixates on the apocalypse and religion, with television and the ocean also used as motifs (with the idea of a blank television screen as a "black mirror" coming back to terrify television viewers years later.)
    • The Suburbs focuses on childhood and the past, and how one "can't go home again" to the way things were.
    • Reflektor returns to religious themes, exploring death, the afterlife, and Classical Mythology, as well as acting at least partially as a criticism of modern society's obsession with social media.
    • Everything Now continues to commentate on life in the 21st century, particularly the perceived post-scarcity of the internet, but with an more openly satirical and sarcastic bent than prior works.
  • Costume Porn: Men in the band tend to look like 19th century farmers. Women wear ball gowns and opera gloves that seem to be a similar vintage. They've more or less abandoned this look recently for a modern semi-formal look while promoting the The Suburbs.
  • Cover Version: The band recorded a rendition of "Games Without Frontiers" by Peter Gabriel for the 2013 tribute album And I'll Scratch Yours, a companion piece to Gabriel's 2010 Cover Album Scratch My Back (which featured him performing his own version of "My Body Is a Cage").
  • Darker and Edgier: Downplayed but still present with Neon Bible, which has a decidedly darker and more serious tone than the band's other albums.
  • Dark Reprise: "Suburban War" for "The Suburbs."
    • "Here Comes the Night Time II" for "Here Comes the Night Time."
  • Distinct Double Album: Reflektor. The first half is looser and toys with rhythmic and dub elements from Jamaica, while the second half sounds like their preceding work. Each disc contains a version of "Here Comes the Night Time", with the second one opening the second disc as a Dark Reprise of the first version.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: Not exactly, but all four albums have perhaps their most epic songs as the penultimate tracks: "Rebellion (Lies)" on Funeral, "No Cars Go" from Neon Bible, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" off The Suburbs, and "Afterlife" from Reflektor.
    • Weirdly, however, the vinyl version and only the vinyl version of The Suburbs does away with this, as the second-to-last track is not "Sprawl II," but the more mournful "Suburban War."
  • Every Episode Ending: At almost every show, (spoilered for those who wish to keep their live shows a surprise): Rebellion (Lies) serves as the finale of the main show. The encore usually ends with "Intervention" or "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)."
  • Everything Is an Instrument: In this famous elevator version of "Neon Bible", Richard Reed Parry plays a magazine.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: "Reflektor" may be this trope's crowning moment.
  • Eye Scream: "Crown of Love" has a line about the narrator carving the name of the girl he loves across his eyelids. It's metaphorical, but it's still a gruesome image and adds to the bleak tone of the song.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Haiti" into "Rebellion (Lies)" on Funeral.
    • Also, a most of the songs on The Suburbs.
    • An unusual example with "Joan of Arc" and "Here Comes the Night Time II"- there's some quiet feedback and tape noise that allows them to segue into each other if played back-to-back, but they're on separate discs.
  • Foreshadowing: On Funeral, Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) mildly foreshadows Rebellion (Lies): "Is it a dream? Is it a lie? I think I'll let you decide".
  • Genre Mashup: As eclectic as you'd expect a rock band with an accordionist (Régine) and string section to be. Their live shows have been described as like "a Clash concert hijacked by the Cirque du Soleil."
  • Growing Up Sucks: "In the Backseat." Régine fearfully sings that she prefers watching the scenery from the backseat of a car, associating the driver's seat with growing old and eventually dying. When she gets to the final line, "I've been learning to drive my whole life," she realizes just what she is saying and begins wailing.
  • Hidden Track: Reflektor features two: the first is before the title track and wholly gives into the idea of reflection, featuring a 10-minute abridged, percussion-less soundscape of the first disc entirely in reverse. "Supersymmetry" is followed by another 5-minute soundscape, this one played forwards and entirely unrelated to anything heard on the album (though some fans found that when reversed, it syncs up with "Supersymmetry" itself, also playing on the idea of a reflection.)
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: WE is divided between an "I" side and a "We" side.
  • In the Style of: A lot of Neon Bible has an overtly Springsteenian sound.
  • Lighter and Softer: Many critics noted that the first half of Reflektor sounded like the band were thoroughly having fun. In the lead-up to the album's release, the band performed as The Reflektors, an alter ego based around bright carnival attire, and Carribean- and Latin-based percussion.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: "Sprawl I (Flatland)"
  • Love at First Note: Win first met Régine when she was singing jazz at an art gallery. Taking this trope up to eleven, they wrote a song together ("Headlights Look Like Diamonds") on their very first date, and said song has remained a fan favourite.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Crown of Love," "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," "Deep Blue."note 
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Almost all of their songs sound ecstatically joyful on the surface, but many have darker undertones, none more jarring than "Intervention":
    Every spark of friendship and love
    Will die without a home
    Hear the soldier groan
    We'll go at it alone
  • Meaningful Echo: Lots and lots of it on The Suburbs.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "The Suburbs (Continued)" is the band's shortest song.
  • The Movie: Scenes From The Suburbs is one for...The Suburbs, with Spike Jonze directing.
  • Multinational Team: The line-up consists of five Canadians and two Americans (though as of 2019 Win holds dual American-Canadian citizenship).
  • New Sound Album: Reflektor incorporates, of all things, Disco and Glam Rock (courtesy of producer James Murphy), as well as dub reggae from their time recording in Jamaica.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Much of The Suburbs.
  • One-Word Title: Among their studio albums, Funeral, Reflektor, and WE all indulge in this.
  • Pop-Star Composer: In addition to their contributions to The Hunger Games, they also scored Spike Jonze's her. Will Butler and frequent collaborator Owen Pallett have received an Academy Award nomination for the score.
  • Precision F-Strike: Or S strike, rather, in "Porno," one of the only profanities on Reflektor: "And boys, they learn some selfish shit..."
  • Pun-Based Title: The title of "Old Flame", from the Arcade Fire EP seems to refer to an old flame in the the romantic sense, but the context doubles in the lines 'your eyes are fluttering, such pretty wings/a moth flying into the same old flame again.'
  • Rearrange the Song: "The song" in this case being "No Cars Go," a tune from their self-titled EP. They did a pretty good job with it, too.
  • Religion Rant Song: "Intervention," "Neon Bible," and "(Antichrist Television Blues)" are all Type 3s, in that they don't attack God or the idea of God, but are instead about the different ways in which religion is misused by many (as an excuse to go to war, as a way to gain money, and as a justification for being the worst type of Stage Dad, respectively).
    • The Protest Song "Here Comes the Night Time" takes on, among other things, missionaries' lack of understanding for those they're preaching to.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Win Butler smashed his guitar on SNL after one of the strings broke mid-song.
    • His brother Will can be seen doing this in several performances, with his preferred victims being drums.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Quite a few of their songs, especially those from Neon Bible. Hell, just listen to Well and the Lighthouse or this little masterpiece !
  • Self-Titled Album: The Arcade Fire EP.
  • Shout-Out:
    Take the poison of your age
    • The cover photo for WE, a digitally recolored macro shot of an eye gazing rightward, recalls that of Scott 3 by Scott Walker.
  • Small Town Boredom: "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)".
  • Snow Means Death: "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)": "Kids are dying out in the snow/Look at 'em go, look at 'em go!"
    • It's worth nothing that the song was inspired by Régine Chassagne's experience in Montreal during the North American ice storm of 1998, which knocked out power in the city for over a week and led to several deaths.
  • Snow Means Love: "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)": "And if the snow/buries my, my neighbourhood/and if my parents are crying/then I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours."
  • Something Blues: Of the "(Antichrist Television)" variety.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Régine has a high, childlike voice whereas Win's is comparatively deep. The contrast is apparent on the more duet-ish songs, notably "The Well and the Lighthouse" and the bridge of "No Cars Go".
  • Special Guest:
    • The Title Track of Reflektor features a guest verse by David Bowie, marking the last time he worked with an outside musician on one of their works (rather than having them appear on his own) before his death in 2016. Bowie confirmed his appearance on the song via a post on his Facebook page.
    • "Unconditional II (Race and Religion)" features backing vocals by Peter Gabriel, who previously covered the band's "My Body Is a Cage" on his 2010 Cover Album Scratch My Back.
  • Spiritual Successor: Arguably, The Suburbs to Funeral. If nothing else, it continues the theme of neighbourhoods. It also has two "suites" entitled "Half Light" and "Sprawl" organized in a way reminiscent of the first album's "Neighbourhood" section.
    • In fact, if listened to directly after Funeral, a Call-Back can immediately be noticed, regarding the metaphor of "learning to drive" as symbolic of growing up featuring both in the last song of Funeral (In The Backseat) and in the eponymous first song of The Suburbs. The Suburbs could subjectively be regarded as a looking-backwards perspective on some of the ideas that Funeral explored from the perspective of a younger in-the-moment observer- the former is about being a teenager and is seen through the eyes of an adult, while the latter is about adulthood and death through the eyes of a teenager.
    • Reflektor picks up on the themes of religion and technology in Neon Bible, and appropriately expands on its bombast.
  • Stage Dad: "(Antichrist Television Blues)" The track is rumoured to have been originally titled "Joe Simpson (Antichrist Television Blues)", meant as a direct attack at the father of Jessica Simpson and his exploitation of his daughter's sexuality while stating that he's a very religious man.
  • Stepford Smiler: Everything Now appears to be about one.
    Turn the speakers up til they break
    'Cause every time you smile it's a fake
    Stop pretending you've got
    Everything now.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Touched on in (what else?) The Suburbs.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Régine Chassagne sings lead for around two songs on each album.
  • Take That!: During Coachella, the band dedicated their songs to the musicians "playing actual instruments", which was a jab at the electronic artists performing. It infamously caused Deadmau5 to get really angry on Twitter.
    • The same show had Daft Punk (albeit impersonated) getting kicked off the stage by the band.
    • Beck, who showed up to help, also jabbed at electronic artists by encouraging the crowd to "[survive] the four on the floor", a wildly used rhythm in electronic music.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Largely averted. Their songs tend to portray teens in a sympathetic light.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: It's generally just "Arcade Fire", but "The Arcade Fire" occasionally appears in the band's own album booklets.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Intervention".
  • Un-person: From "Intervention:" "And when you finally disappear, they'll say you were never here."
  • Villain Song: "(Antichrist Television Blues)" is sung from the perspective of a father who willfully exploits and possibly abuses his daughter, all the while using religion to justify his actions. (The Wham Line below suggests that he's aware of his own villainy, though.)
  • Vocal Tag Team: Of the song-by-song basis variety (both Win Butler and Régine Chassagne have lead vocals, although he has many more), verse-by-verse basis variety ("Headlights Look Like Diamonds, "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations"), and the duet/harmonizing variety ("Half Light I", "The Suburbs (Continued)".
  • Wham Line:
    • From "(Antichrist Television Blues)": "I'm through being cute/I'm through being nice/Oh tell me Lord/Am I the Antichrist?"
    • From "Creature Comfort": "It's not painless/She was a friend of mine".
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Reflektor.

If I could have it back... all the time that I wasted, I'd only waste it again, and again, and again...