Continuing our celebration of the art of the album and the importance of an introduction, we look through the back catalogue of Arcade Fire and all five of their Side One Track Ones…
1. Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) (Funeral, 2004)
Critically acclaimed from the get go, Arcade Fire’s debut catapulted the collective into the ears and festivals of the world, with Funeral finishing at the top of many a year’s end list in 2004 (or 2005, depending on territories and release dates…). Named due to many members of the band losing family members around the time of recording, Funeral is an all-analogue recording, paying tribute to brothers Will & Win Butlers’ grandfather (Alvino Ray, a renowned swing musician) – however with huge anthems throughout, its clear that stadium-fillers like Radiohead, U2 or Sigur Ros played a part in their musical heritage too. Opener Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) – the first of four Neighbourhood tracks, and the lead single – plays out like their career; cosy and humble for the first few moments, before quickly establishing itself as something much bigger.
Choice lyrics: ‘But sometimes, we remember our bedrooms, And our parents’ bedrooms, And the bedrooms of our friends.’
2. Black Mirror (Neon Bible, 2007)
Retaining the organic musicality of their debut, Neon Bible showed no signs of difficulty in Arcade Fire’s quick transition from college band to the global music press’ sweethearts. If anything, the flick was switched to showcase more of their anthemic side, assisted in part no doubt from slots at Coachella and even on that now festive relic, Top Of The Pops. Following simple rhythms and beats but touching on deep subject matter, opener Black Mirror is an instantaneous reminder that this band are both accessible yet far from the mainstream. Strings by Owen Pallett offer a Psycho-like scene setter similar to Radiohead and Jonny Greenwood’s style. And yes, the title did partly inspire Charlie Brooker.
Choice lyrics: ‘All words will lose their meaning, Please show me something that isn’t mine.’
3. The Suburbs (The Suburbs, 2010)
Something of a concept, The Suburbs was a stark reminder of the band’s heritage; their upbringings and the songs that scored those memories (with Neil Young and Depeche Mode name checked by Will Butler). And despite this, it sounds very much like the next organic step in the band’s career. Lead single Ready To Start was a track so straightforward it was too complex to work out how they made it so, while Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains) allowed Régine Chassagne to take centre stage with a number that was how one might image a Björk and Blondie collaboration to sound. Opener and title track The Suburbs sets the scene – close your eyes and you could be driving through The Woodlands, Texas; perhaps it’s a little old fashioned, but there’s an undeniable charm and there’s isn’t a second you’d skip.
Choice lyrics: ‘Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling again.’
4. Reflektor (Reflektor, 2013)
From The Suburbs in the neighbourhood to the carnival via the discotheque, Arcade Fire – or The Reflektors as they were known for the lead single’s cover – teamed up with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy for LP 4. For the first time, there are elements completely separate from the band’s previous back catalogue – as if the origin story trilogy had come to an end, and the story of a world famous, adored band had begun. Flashbulb Eyes and Normal Person touch on the subject of fame, but the responsibility of the band’s platform doesn’t go ignored, with We Exist discussing LGBT issues, while Afterlife is a commiseration delivered in the guise of a celebration. And then of course there’s the title-track, the 7.5 minute David Bowie featuring epic; a concoction of indie-rock and disco with sprinkles of Roxy Music sax, Madchester keys and a whisper of Talking Heads. Legend has it that Bowie, recording in the same studios, heard them recording the track and told the band that if they didn’t release it he would.
Choice lyrics: ‘Our song escapes, on little silver discs, Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits.’
5. Everything_Now (continued), Everything Now (Everything Now, 2017)
Going with Track One and Two here, to be clear, Everything Now (the album) is arguably the first time the band experienced mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. Whereas previous albums had been very much entire, interweaved collections, there’s something of a box-of-chocolates feel to Everything Now – sure they compliment each other, but there are some to appreciate a lot more than others. Of the former, the 50s spy film feel to Creature Comfort’s intro is up there, while Put Your Money On Me feels like the sort of track that could have featured on either of the previous collections with tweaks in production. (Here, the synths are turned up, which is no bad thing.) Opener Everything Now filtered the disco from Reflektor to produce an ABBA influenced, sky stretching, euphoric opener – and a track that would instantly become one of the band’s greatest hits, despite it stark differences to a lot of what the rest of that collection might look like.
Choice lyrics: ‘Every inch of sky’s got a star, Every inch of skin’s got a scar, I guess that you’ve got everything now.’