Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Arcade Fire

  • Funeral [Merge, 2004] A-
  • Neon Bible [Merge, 2007] A+
  • The Suburbs [Merge, 2010] A-
  • Reflektor [Merge, 2013] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Funeral [Merge, 2004]
First you notice that the opener really is kinda gorgeous, with its twin-xylophone-echoed piano flourish and all. Then you isolate Win Butler's sob and fantasize about throttling the twit, an immature impulse unmitigated by the lyrics, which are histrionic even for a guy who's just lost a grandparent (or whoever). But if you keep at it till the next song, which tells the story of his runaway older brother getting bitten by a vampire, you begin to admire his resilience--he's retained a sense of the ridiculous, which is more than you can say of most young twits who sing about losing a grandparent (or whoever). And that's how the album goes--too fond of drama, but aware of its small place in the big world, and usually beautiful. N.B.: if you're considering Montreal, which is certainly my favorite Canadian place, the ex-Texans and -Haitian here want to make clear that it's horribly cold. A-

Neon Bible [Merge, 2007]
To remind us that anxiety is in his bones, Win Butler refurbishes the 2003 plaint "No Cars Go" as a football cheer about the safe place just before sleep. But everywhere else he emerges from his precious privacy and names the things he has to be afraid of, things he shares with all of us--religions run amok, rising tides, the surveillance state, a cowboy-in-chief with so little to lose he could start World War III on a dare. He doesn't tame his fears by naming them, or hint that they can be overcome, although in "The Well and the Lighthouse," he advises the lighthouse: "If you leave, them ships are gonna wreck." But he and his large band of unarty art-rockers rock so hard and so beautiful they can propel anyone who listens past the end of the record. They thud rather than thunder. But what a loud and joyous thud it is. A+

The Suburbs [Merge, 2010]
With beats this straight and stolid, you'd better keep the anthems coming, and they do, almost. Acclimate yourself and maybe you'll check in with track three (at 1:20, the "chosen few" stuff) or even track two (just 29 seconds until "Businessmen they drink my wine"). Certainly track four, the sub-four-minutes reproach "Rococo" ("ro-co-co-ro-co-co-ro-co-co-ro-co-co," although that rendering shortchanges the rhythmic nuances). Then you'll put the record aside for a week or two, and when you return you'll be back to backgrounding it till track five, six seconds of violin pre-climax to the speedy intro to the sub-three-minutes Régine Chassagne feature "Empty Room," followed hard on by the determined "City With No Children." After that it'll be as back-and-forth as Win Butler's thematics till Ms. Chassagne climaxes the opus with the wholehearted "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." Then you'll remember just why you wanted to put it on, and soon you'll be coming in at "Rococo" yet again. A-

Reflektor [Merge, 2013]
Big plans for a big party vanish into the ether as the night soars virtually on ("Here Comes the Night Time," "Normal Person") **

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