10 Best Arcade Fire Songs
What band tops the indie heap in 2013? If you look at ticket and album sales, critical acclaim and awards and drawing power, a strong case can certainly be made for Arcade Fire. On the strength of three LPs — the most recent of which, 2010’s ‘The Suburbs,’ earned them a Grammy for Album of the Year — and one largely overlooked early EP, the band has achieved worldwide fame, all without the help of pop radio. Their ascent has been the result of smarts, talent (particularly apparent in the songwriting of frontman Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne) and hard work. Their initial burst of popularity in 2004 was based on their unique and powerful live show, and each time they’ve needed to up their game, the Montreal octet has responded with idea like their notorious 2011 balloon-dropping performance at Coachella or the ‘Neon Bible’ Take Away Show they played in an elevator. But more than anything, it’s the music that has vaulted these musical misfits to the mainstream, and as we look ahead to the group’s fourth studio album, due Oct. 29, we thought it time to pay tribute with this list of the 10 Best Arcade Fire Songs.
‘Neighborhood 2 (Laika)’
‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ might not hold the same power it did when ‘Funeral,’ the Arcade Fire’s full-length debut, came out, but it only suffers because the group has so many other great songs. Reviews of the crew’s live show circa 2004 tended to focus on their motorcycle helmets, but that was just one part of the spirited concerts that helped catapult them to fame. Check out this mini-convo on the Pavement message board from February 2005, six months after the release of ‘Funeral’, for some great reactions to the ‘Conan’ appearance linked to below.
‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’
At No. 9 on the 10 Best Arcade Fire Songs list, ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ might strike some as strangely titled. Parentheticals are common in AF songs, but there’s nothing to go along with it. The story goes that it was originally titled ‘Joe Simpson,’ and the lyrics seem to suggest that the father of then-hot topics Ashley and Jessica Simpson was, indeed, the inspiration. Beyond that, it’s a Springsteen-inspired, 12-bar-blues look into how people are misled by religion, and how the most selfish acts are often warped through reason.
‘Half Light II (No Celebration)’
Arcade Fire rarely performed ‘Half Light II (No Celebration)’ during their Suburbs tour, and in the video clip linked to below, Win explains that they simply couldn’t figure out how to play it live. On record, though, the track is huge. Packing beautiful orchestration and wise sentiments, it’s highlighted by the yelp the frontman lets out after singing “Pray that God won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild.” Moments like that make records human, and here, it’s just perfect.
At No. 7 on our list of the 10 Best Arcade Fire Songs is ‘Intervention,’ which in many ways was the bridge from ‘Funeral’ to ‘Neon Bible.’ Appropriately, themes from both albums are present, with the band not hiding their critique of religious institutions. They’re hardly the first musicians to write about politics, but they’ve notably done so when their music hasn’t required it, and when they weren’t even successful yet. As big as Arcade Fire might seem, there’s an underground DIY mentality to the project they seem intent on maintaining.
‘Keep the Car Running’
Though Arcade Fire would never be accused of being light or slow, their genuine up-tempo rockers are few and far between. ‘Keep the Car Running’ is neither particularly fast nor heavy, but it packs an adrenaline burst aided by the handclaps and auxiliary percussion that drive the rhythm. Win Butler wears the Canadian Springsteen badge well (despite being raised in the U.S.), with his Boss-inspired cadence also a significant source for the song’s unwavering energy.
The outro to ‘Suburban War’ takes a song that feels post-apocalyptic and distant to a place quite the opposite. “All my old friends, they don’t know me now,” Butler sings amid towering strings and cymbal smashes. The reality that stays with you after hearing the song is that we are not in a war zone, that the world still exists and that our friends can still be that distant. That may hurt a little to think about, but it feels real and really resonates — even when it stings.
Having surfaced everywhere from sports radio to movie previews, ‘Wake Up’ is the only Arcade Fire tune non-fans are likely to know. The serrated guitar intro is now iconic, and whoever got the guitar settings so right on that recording deserves partial credit for Arcade Fire’s career. But it’s also the group harmony, which drifts in and out of the song, that is so memorable. ‘Wake Up’ feels like a direct and personal message from the group, and as weird as that sounds, that’s one goal of being in a band: speaking as one and making listeners feel like the lyrics are about them and no one else.
‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’
For the majority of the Suburbs tour, it just killed fans that Regine could not sing this song well, especially because it was often their closing number. But near the end of the year, she figured the song out and coupled it with her ribbon dance for a worthy representation of the finest song she’s yet written.
‘Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)’
If your first experience with Arcade Fire was listening to ‘Funeral,’ ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ was the first song you heard. It’s a great intro to the band, starting hushed and heating to a boil, eventually concluding in catharsis. The group sprinkles great lyrics among characteristically good ones, and the line “we remember out bedrooms, and our parents bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends” ranks among the standout lines. That bit of childhood nostalgia still hits home nearly a decade later. Butler’s powerful lyrics are as crucial as the band’s live performances and bold arrangements, and that’s apparent from track one of their first LP.
To get personal for a second, I can still remember the first time I heard Arcade Fire. It was in a friend’s room, and after burning a CD of ‘Funeral,’ he played me ‘Rebellion (Lies),’ which tops our list of the Best Arcade Fire Songs. The impact was about as instantaneous as music gets, as this emotional anthem hit on every level of auditory pleasure. Given the sensation that song gave me, it’s not surprising that Arcade Fire are now one of the biggest bands on the planet. More than many others, they deserve it.