The soundtrack of my later young adult life has in large part been produced by the Arcade Fire. It came as an unexpected infatuation, as when I first heard them I thought them to be too ‘hipstery’ and sounding too much like Bruce Springsteen. But time went on, and in short order I fell head over heels for them. Our love affair climaxed when I went to go see them at what I would consider the best concert that I have ever attended. At about 31 seconds you can see me in a yellow cap, not far from the front.
Their work (well… the last three albums) I think should be considered as a triptych. Neon Bible was clearly a reaction to nearly a decade under the Bush administration, and mirrored the feelings that many of us of this generation felt. It dealt with the guilt and burden associated with serving as a soldier in an unjust and ill defined war, the horror of hijacked religion, emotional and physical personal loss, the rise of a security state, and a general rejection of the balance due for the contemporary American lifestyle. The idea of challenging the state and church is conceptually ‘easy’, and it is well defined. Lyrically, Neon Bible is the darkest of the three albums (unless the remainder of Reflektor surprises me). It is also the heaviest in terms of composition and arrangement. It is a serious album, serious about being serious.
Suburbs dealt with the more nuanced and insidious notion that we are all our worst enemies. That it is our comfort, our lack of challenge or care that is what holds us back, not the external demons explored in Neon Bible. This album really deeply explored thinking about the challenges of being mediocre in a decaying modern society. It is still very much tied to the themes of Neon Bible, as they were the road which paved the way to the Suburbs, but that story is incomplete. Digging deeper it becomes clear that any answers rendered from Neon Bible are just stepping off points for getting a more complete explanation as to why an entire generation of young adults has been left emotionally wanting. The suburbs is quite a bit more whimsical with respect to lyrics. The metaphors and similes are spread heavily, but in a fun and digestible way. As I see it, the production quality is significantly better, with more complex and nuanced arrangements. It is just more fun to listen to.
Finally we come to Reflektor. As the title seems to suggest, this is an album about pure introspection. As the album has not yet come out, I really can’t speak with any authority about the complete production. What I can glean from the so far released tracks is that this album explores something deeper than what is found in Suburbs, and that is the love and complexities of a lifelong relationship with a partner. The tracks so far are much more Afro-Cuban (well… specifically Haitian) centric with respect to musical themes. The concepts explored through songs like Reflektor and Afterlife are really difficult to define without the tacit experience of living long enough to understand Neon Bible, to grow jaded enough to accept Suburbs, and eventually emotionally pragmatic enough to cut losses and make compromises to maintain the integrity of a relationship as explored in Reflektor.
These albums when put together remind me of what Nietzsche described as the three metamorphoses; where a man becomes the camel, then the lion, and eventually the child. The camel carries burdens across a desert. The lion is a conqueror, shaping his kingdom for himself. Finally, the child represents a kind of cremation of care. To understand love and loss deeply enough to write about it as frankly as may be seen in Reflektor requires an open and honest dialogue with oneself which can only really be achieved through ‘letting go’.
So with the release of the new album later this week, I say cheers. The odds of this album being yet another “album of the decade” seem fair. If nothing else, music lovers should be in for a treat.