Fresh off an incredible headline performance in Marlay Park this summer alongside the Pixies, The Arcade Fire have long had a special affinity with the Irish nation due to our passion for the Canadian super group ever since they arrived on the scene a full decade ago. After the release of fourth record Reflektor last year followed by their most epic of tours to date, it seems there's no better time to take a look back on the discography of one of the world's best bands and determine which was their greatest moment.
Reflektor arrived at the end of last year largely to the same critical reception as the band's previous trio of releases, but for the first time since their beginnings there were also small voices of dissent and disappointment raised at this new work. The explanation for such was simple- having spent nearly a decade at the top of the mountain with their perfected brand of glorious alternative rock, it was time to let loose and experiment.
This change came in the form of LCD Soundsystem retiree James Murphy's inclusion as producer on the record, a move which paid off in dividends and resulted in a pulsating, irresistable heartbeat that flowed throughout Reflektor's lengthy tracklist on highlights like the opening title track and penultimate beauty ''Afterlife'', as well as anthems like ''Normal Person'', ''Joan Of Arc'' and centerpiece ''Here Comes The Night Time''.
Detractors who point to the albums length and exploratory sound are missing the point- for true fans of the band these accusations will prove unfounded, with length acting as a gift rather than a curse as each sprawling piece is executed carefully and precisely with a measured pace to the very last beat. These songs may take time to build, but it's well spent time, and perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay Reflektor is the extraordinary fact that despite its epic length it's never overstated, bloated, or unnecessarily filled; every single moment is totally justified and masterfully executed.
Best Tracks: Reflektor/Here Comes The Night Time/Afterlife
3. Neon Bible
Neon Bible arrived amidst a wave of heavy expectation in March 2007 and rightly so considering the impact of debut album Funeral in 2004, but fans and critics needn't have worried; inside a Quebec church the band bought for the recording process, Win Butler and co. had crafted an album worthy of its predecessor in Neon Bible.
This time around the band explored worldly, political themes over personal issues and the result was cynical, dark and paranoid examination of religion and government set to a backdrop of contrasting beauty, the like of which only Arcade Fire could produce.
Band staples such as ''No Cars Go'' (previously recorded for a self titled debut EP but in even greater style here), ''Keep The Car Running'' and ''Intervention'' are all found on Neon Bible, but as with all of the band's work this is an album that rewards from start to finish, immersing you deep inside its dystopian world all the way from the mysterious opening sounds of ''Black Mirror'' to the drowning organ climax that is ''My Body Is A Cage'' in one of the defining albums of the 00's.
Best Tracks: Intervention/(Antichrist Television Blues)/No Cars Go
2. The Suburbs
There is an argument to be made that The Suburbs would have made a better double album than Reflektor- standing at over an hour long with 16 tracks, it perhaps could have been broken in two easier than the band's last effort, but on reflection that would have been a terrible mistake as the fluidity and dream-like atmosphere that carry the band's third effort from first to last is what makes it such an instant classic.
Win Butler said he set out to create ''neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – a letter from the suburbs" and in this quest he succeeded gloriously, crafting a picture so translucent and evoking feelings so personal yet universal that you'll feel as though you've been transported back to your own youth upon the first listen.
While The Suburbs isn't quite The Arcade Fire's greatest record, it's without a doubt Win Butler's finest achievement as a songwriter as the frontman developed on his band's third album into a deeper, more subtle lyrical talent while laying down a chronological map of childhood over the 64 minutes- he starts by declaring so wistfully ''Sometimes I Can't believe it/I'm moving past the feeling'' as he mentally battles his own transforming youth before eventually resisting the urge to ''Quit those pretentious things and just punch a clock'' on one of the band's greatest ever songs ''Sprawl II'', before quietly hypnotizing us to the close with a reprise of that incredible title track.
It's barely a minute long but that beautiful ode reverberates long past the finish of the album as Butler almost whispers to the listener ''If I could have it back I'd only waste it again/You know I'd love to waste it again and again and again''. It's a universal notion but one that cuts deep to anyone with fond memories of childhood and on conclusion, while perhaps The Suburbs is not a love letter to its namesake, it's almost definitely a love letter to ''the feeling''- the one mentioned right from the beginning and the one that stays within you through, that of eternal youth and the pains of eventually growing up and getting older.
United feeling and all inclusive emotion is what The Arcade Fire have always done best, and The Suburbs was so nearly the best they've ever done it, all except on their very first try.
Best Tracks: The Suburbs/Half Light/Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Funeral was born out of the loss of several family members for The Arcade Fire in a short space of time- Win and William Butler lost their grandfather, Regine Chassange's grandmother passed away while Richard Parry's aunt also died. But out of the darkness came the light as these combined tragedies paved the way for an album that has been rightfully proclaimed the best of the entire decade.
There will never be another Funeral, despite the countless number of acts who've tried to imitate it since, because the sheer passion, heart-on-sleeve emotion that is captured so vividly within these ten tracks cannot be recreated. Funeral's message is one of triumph in unity, and it couldn't be more fitting for the Canadian nine piece, each of whom combine with a startling range of instruments (violin, viola, double bass, cello, xylophone, glockenspiel, French horn, hurdy-gurdy, mandolin, accordion and harp) to create this one of a kind, lightning in a bottle classic.
In spite of the devastating circumstances that gave birth to Funeral there's an underlying joyful, glorious tone that has defined the band ever since and seen them become international icons as they grew into other genres while always retaining the melodic alternative rock style that populated Funeral particularly on tracks like ''Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)'', ''Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)'' and ''Crown Of Love'', as well as (and perhaps more importantly) its empowering, ferociously uplifting spirit, best exemplified by the album and the band's very best moments on ''Rebellion (Lies)'', ''Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)'' and ''Wake Up''.
Most crucially, Funeral teaches the message of spreading beauty in a sometimes cruel and unfair world, a sentiment that has carried throughout Arcade Fire's career ever since and defined their unique reputation in modern music. For this reason, and for the simple fact that it's quite possibly the greatest collection of songs put to CD in the 21st century, Funeral is The Arcade Fire's crowning achievement, at least for the present.
Best Tracks: Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)/Wake Up/Rebellion (Lies)
Next: Bloc Party
Words: Andrew Lambert