The Arcade Fire Archives
Ahead of the beloved indie superstars new album “WE”, we look back on a number of their iconic singles from the last nearly 20 years and see just what was going on in the world when they dropped
Nearly two decades and six studio albums into their career, it’s hard to think of a contemporary indie rock band as consistent and beloved as Arcade Fire, whose acclaimed, revered and ridiculously good debut album Funeral dropped all the way back in 2004 (like 8 years ago, right… right!?).
Forming in 2001, the Canadian band consisting of husband and wife pair Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, alongside permanent members Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara have rightfully solidified their place in indie rock history as contemporary royalty of the scene, whose music has been there to help us through tough times, and potentially provide guidance or answers in a meaningless world.
Not shy to talk about their values and politics, and with their sixth studio album WE set for release Friday, May 6, we decided to take a trip down memory lane and get nostalgic with some of our favourite Arcade Fire singles while checking out what was going on in the world at the time.
2004 - Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
On June 20, 2004, Arcade Fire were unleashed on the global listening public with their now beloved first single Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) releasing a few months before their now classic debut full-length, Funeral. Their first released music also came a few months after Mark Zuckerberg launched “The Facebook”, with Arcade Fire utillsing social media creatively in future campaigns, and frontman Win Butler having a seemingly adjusted take on social media many years later, as when in 2017 asked if he was okay about what people said about him online, he replied “At the end of the day, you put your head on the pillow and you are who you are”.
2005 - Cold Wind
A year on from their world-conquering debut album, Arcade Fire released a non-album single (that was also part of the incredible and iconic Six Feet Under soundtrack) at the start of August 2005 with the, in hindsight, eerily titled Cold Wind. I say eerily titled, as just three weeks after the track dropped, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the U.S. extremely hard, killing over a thousand people and wreaking over $100 billion in damages.
In an incredible collaboration to raise funds for the Hurricane Katrina relief fund, in September the band got together with their now friend at the time, one David Bowie, to perform a special concert in New York that would go on to be released as Live EP (Live at Fashion Rocks).
2007 - Black Mirror
A good four years before the words “Black Mirror” became ubiquitous thanks to the dystopian British TV series, Butler was singing about being “shot by a security camera / you can’t watch your own image / and also look yourself in the eye / black mirror / black mirror / black mirror”... while our now new reality of screens on screens on screens was a predictable eventuality back in ‘07, the fact that Black Mirror released just two weeks after Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPhone, thus kicking off the smartphone era, is all the more spooky.
2010 - The Suburbs
The eponymous single from the band’s third album dropped right smack bang in the middle of 2010, 18 months into Obama’s first term in office, and while I’m probably clutching at straws here (and correlation does NOT equal causation), I can’t help but notice somewhat of a thematic or even just aesthetic shift from 2007’s Neon Bible to the more quaint stylings of The Suburbs. Described by Butler as “neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs - it’s a letter from the suburbs”, fresh into Obama’s reign during a time of “HOPE” etc seems like one of the more “comfortable” times in US history… and an appropriate time to be inspired by the nostalgic suburbs of childhood.
2013 - Reflektor
September 2013 saw Arcade Fire make their return with the title track from their, at the time, soon-to-be-released fourth album Reflektor, a track whose lyrics and themes are almost the yin to Black Mirror’s yang, as Butler muses “we fell in love, alone on a stage, in the reflective age”. Reflektor also potentially shed more light on Butler’s attitude towards social media at the time, singing “Now the signals we send are deflected again / we’re still connected but are we even friends?”... fast forward nine years and yep, more relevant then ever, sadly.
2013 was also the year Obama was sworn in for his second term as POTUS, with Butler by this point having made vocal his support of the Democratic party leader. In 2012, Butler wrote at some length regarding his feelings for Obama, including, as a US citizen in Canada “Barack Obama is perhaps the greatest president of modern times at communicating directly with foreign populations. He has also changed the way the government communicates with its own citizens about the outside world. I am excited for four more years of an Obama presidency for many reasons, but the one I am going to write about is selfish: I want four more sweet years of Canadians liking Americans.”
2017 - Everything Now
While our next entry may mirror the band’s tradition of dropping the title track of a forthcoming album first, four years on from Reflektor to Everything Now in 2017, the political climate in North America had completely changed, objectively for the worst, with the biggest joke in US history taking place - Donald Trump being sworn in as POTUS… and you can bet Butler & co were NOT fans.
Not mincing words at all, before this dystopian nightmare of a Trump presidency became a reality, in 2016 Butler quite aptly described him as “a complete fucking nightmare and a clown and a joke”. Not scared to be a voice of reason, Butler would go on to publicly condemn trump on several more occasions, including two months after Everything Now dropped to speak out against Trump’s trans military ban, and a year later in regard to Trump referring to Central American and African nations as “shithole countries”.
2022 - Unconditional (Lookout Kid)
Which brings us to present day during the first week of May, 2022, a week after the band’s last single and the week their new album drops. It’s a time of the ongoing COVID pandemic, war in Ukraine, global economic uncertainty and general unrest, and the US are actually fucking considering overturning Roe v Wade in a move that would set society back over a half a century (which reminds of the time Arcade Fire were indirectly caught up in Justin Bieber’s own ridiculous take on abortion).
While it’s now somewhat of a cliche to say that each generation is worse than the one before, and these truly are strange and dangerous times… what better time for an iconic band like Arcade Fire to release an epic album simply titled WE… the musical heroes WE need in 2022.
Arcade Fire’s new album WE is out May 6 via Sony Music Australia