Since their first demo back in 2001, up until their critically divisive fifth LP last year, Canadian indie rock outfit Arcade Fire have had a knack for inciting strong reactions from the general public and critics – most of the time positive. Not one to stick to the same bread and butter formula, the Montreal band have constantly changed up their sound which helps to make them one of the most exciting acts the 21st century has provided thus far.
Of course, we can’t simply sit idly by and not ask the question: what’s their best record? Well you won’t have to ponder for much longer as Transistor’s fantastic four Jake (@jjjjaketh), Josh (@jxshadams), Kieran (@kiercannon), and Sarah (@hollowcrown) have helped to 100-per-cent-definitively rank their albums – will there be hot takes? Absolutely. Will there be an obvious loser? Most definitely? Will you be pissed off at us? Probably. Anyway, let’s keep the car running and skrt off to our ranking…
Quick disclaimer: This is, like, our opinion or whatever, dude. Disagree? The comments down below will house whatever rage you’re feeling.
5. Everything Now (2017)
Jake [5th]: While I don’t hate Everything Now with the feverishness that many other people do, there’s absolutely no denying that it’s the black sheep in Arcade Fire’s discography. The promo campaign in the lead up to the album rubbed a LOT of people the wrong way, with the band adopting a satirical über-capitalist facade, and unleashing the Everything Now Corporation on the world.
We’re not here to talk about that, however (though I, amongst many others, have plenty to say on the subject). We’re here to talk about the tunes, and while it’s the weakest Arcade Fire album, there are still bangers to be found here. The title track, for instance, is a natural progression (or regression?) of the sound Arcade Fire adopted on The Suburbs, with a bit of Reflektor thrown in.
Creature Comfort is a barnstormer of a song, with Reginé rocking a FUCKING KEYTAR during live sets, and the undeniably massive sounding Electric Blue gets its funk on. An incredibly divisive album, then. But a quote-unquote “bad” Arcade Fire album is still better than most other records.
Josh [5th]: What is there to say about this record that hasn’t already been said? By and large considered a disappointment except for the few aurally challenged, Arcade Fire’s fifth LP saw them aim for the nosebleed seats of the stadium with infectious pop melodies, danceable grooves, and biting social commentary that was hinted to be a more streamlined version of the group’s last album, “Reflektor”, thanks to its phenomenal lead titular single.
However, their reach went beyond their grasp, and lazy songwriting, embarrassing marketing, and tired performances hampered down their latest, with few highlights scattered amongst the track listing (“Creature Comfort” and “Electric Blue” being amongst them). They may have attained new commercial heights with “Everything Now”, but at the cost of their reputation as critical darlings and one of our generation’s most forward-thinking bands.
Kieran [5th]: Despite generating astronomical levels of hype with a multitude of teasers and visuals of the band marching about in matching EN regalia, Arcade Fire’s latest release ultimately fell rather flat on its face.
The cryptic social media promo campaign had us all hoping for an even bigger, bolder expansion on Reflektor’s avant-garde approach and while some tracks delivered to a certain extent, such as Creature Comfort and ridiculously catchy title track Everything Now, the album’s overriding narrative of subversive consumerist critique felt all too often like a crutch to fall back on; a cover-up for a lack of songwriting ideas.
Chemistry, for example: is it steeped in countless layers of irony, or is it just a bit terrible? Overall, the reason EN languishes so far behind the rest is that, unlike any album they’ve released up to this point, it’s simply not an enjoyable listen from front to back.
Sarah [5th]: Parody-like promotion aside – 2017’s Everything Now fails to deliver the multifaceted creativity explored in Arcade Fire’s previous works. It is clear that the band attempted to push their own boundaries by following a simpler and slightly more abrasive path, however, this shift wasn’t well received for good reason.
There are some listenable tracks from this record, such as Electric Blue, that stray from AF’s sound but still deliver. With a career spanning almost 15 years and a cult following, changing your core characteristics and drawing from completely abstract influences can challenge fan loyalty, as this isn’t the sound they have grown to adore.
4. Neon Bible (2007)
Josh [4th]: There’s nothing bad per se about “Neon Bible” – the production is a step up from the lo-fi smudge of their debut, the performances are as tight as ever, and it features some of Arcade Fire’s greatest hits. But ultimately it suffers from middle child syndrome, lacking both the shock-of-the-new of “Funeral” and the grand, overblown ambition of “The Suburbs”.
The expansion into Americana is a nice touch, expanding the group’s instrumental palette to include organs and mandolins (see: “Intervention” and “Keep The Car Running”), but it does little to keep certain tracks memorable, especially in the latter of the LP. At least it features their greatest album closer to date, a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “My Body Is A Cage” that is bursting at the seams with teenage tension and adolescent angst before erupting into a heavenly climax that could fill a cathedral.
Kieran [4th]: I feel rotten about Neon Bible ending up in this lowly position, I really do. In fact, it’s the album that got me into Arcade Fire in the first place and it’s arguably the one that propelled them into stadium-filling indie rock stardom. For some reason, though, it’s the only pre-EN album I rarely find myself revisiting.
By most other metrics, it’s a great album. The swelling organs and wonderfully dark lyrics of My Body Is a Cage and Intervention marry together perfectly to create stunning pieces of baroque pop while the intense, upbeat No Cars Go has established itself as a firm fan favourite.
Compared to the sheer single-mindedness of Funeral, for example, Neon Bible has expanded outwards thematically, covering a vast array of topics and incorporating plenty of grandiose instrumentation but it doesn’t quite deliver the same gut-punch as the others.
Sarah [3rd]: A pivotal point in the Arcade Fire discography, Neon Bible is a graduation from their heavily artistic debut but remains stylistically vague – leaving room to play in future albums. Sandwiched between the band’s first studio album and their most refined release, Neon Bible serves as a guide of sorts.
The problem with this album is that the storytelling is somewhat 2D – and with such an emotive album under their belt already, this one feels almost vapid in context. The whole album is frustrating as it fails to deliver any real depth, and we have several examples that Arcade Fire are capable of this on celestial levels.
Jake [3rd]: The darkest of any of their albums, Arcade Fire’s sophomore effort Neon Bible is a bit of a fiddly record to get adjusted to. But when you do, it bloody shines. With song topics ranging from phones and computers taking over THE PEOPLE, MAN! (Black Mirror) to failing religion (Intervention and (Antichrist Television Blues)), the topics are heavy but dealt with with a deft hand.
They didn’t abandon their knack for crafting a bonafide festival classic, however, with Keep the Car Running, No Cars Go and even the ridiculously sad album closer My Body is a Cage being live set mainstays since the album’s release. Neon Bible is another jewel in Arcade Fire’s crown.
3. Reflektor (2013)
Kieran [3rd]: Far be it from Arcade Fire to be accused of resting on their laurels – a trip to Régine Chassagne’s ancestral homeland of Haiti was enough inspiration for the Canadian indie-rock outfit to reinvent themselves, more or less.
Reflektor is a smorgasbord of musical influences spanning Haitian rara to dance-rock, an illustration of the group’s laissez-faire attitude; one which results in their most imaginative and carefree recordings to date, the aural equivalent of letting your hair down and dancing like an absolute bam.
For a band who were previously considered fairly earnest and sombre, they’ve decided to cast off indie-rock conventions and go with the flow – this rhythm-orientated approach is perfectly captured with the syncopated beats of Here Comes The Night Time. It’s loose, it’s unconventional, it’s paranoid and anxious but – crucially – Reflektor is utterly, utterly compelling. The only petty grievance preventing this being a contender for my #1 is its gargantuan 85 minute run time.
Sarah [4th]: Unlike Everything Now, Reflektor breaks the band’s mould while still holding integrity as an Arcade Fire album. Songs like Joan of Arc show a lot of experimentation and exemplifies the bands’ infamous ability to create highly interesting, enjoyable music. Into the records second half we see foreshadowing with Porno – a blunt, steady song – arguably better than anything from Everything Now, but still lays the foundation for that release.
Jake [4th]: Reflektor is very, very, very good. It’s also, to me, a bit scatterbrained (like Everything Now). Reflektor knows what it wants to talk about (namely the rise of technology) and it utilises a smorgasbord or genres to convey its messages.
Reflektor is punky, disco-y, electro…-y(?), glam-y… you name it, Arcade Fire touched on it with this album. And that isn’t really a bad thing, Win sacrificing a cohesive identity allowed Arcade Fire to be as free and as experimental as they wanted, and for the most part, it paid off.
Birthing songs like We Exist, Reflektor, Afterlife and Normal Person. It’s an album that’s simultaneously weighed down and elevated by the fact that it’s so all over the place from a genre perspective, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Josh [2nd]: A controversial pick for a number two spot? Perhaps. A lot of complaints have been levied at the band’s fourth album: it’s too long, over-indulgent, the change in tone and sound too jarring, the stage show and marketing too gimmicky. But this is Arcade Fire at the peak of their ambition, and if there is one thing Win Butler and co. do well, it’s ambition.
Every song might not be mind-blowing, but they’re memorable and unique in the context of the album, and the listener genuinely feels like they have completed a journey by the time they wrap up on the jaw-droppingly gorgeous “Supersymmetry”. The production comes courtesy of James Murphy, so you know it’s going to sound tighter than your grandmother’s attic (and that’s not a euphemism), and the instrumentation has been made even more eclectic to harbour the influence of African, Haitian and Latin music. From start to finish, this is an absolute joy to listen to – just don’t forget to take a deep breath before you begin.
2. Funeral (2004)
Sarah [2nd]: As a debut, Funeral thrust Arcade Fire into the indie mainstream – and almost immediately helped the band make their claim as important figures in the scene. This record perfectly exemplifies their creativity, be it through the actual songs, the titles or the artwork, with each aspect setting them apart from popular alternative music at the time.
What truly makes Funeral special is its inherent ability to pander to people from all walks of life, it sits happily in the middle of the spectrum between too much and too little. Having this as a debut really pulled in a loyal fanbase from the get-go as it was widely spread across societal groups – and this has been fundamental in the bands following successes. Without Funeral, Arcade Fire would perhaps fail to be the grandeur figure we know it as.
Jake [2nd]: It’s still staggering to me to this day that Funeral is Arcade Fire’s first full-length album. Already masters of their craft at this early a stage of their careers, Win and his merry band of misfits set the world of Indie alight with the release of Funeral in 2004. Imagine writing songs like Wake Up, Crown of Love, Power Out and Rebellion on your FIRST. FUCKING. ALBUM. It’s almost unfair. One of the best debut albums ever, unquestionably.
Josh [3rd]: The one that started it all. It’s hard to remember a time when Arcade Fire weren’t considered A Very Big Deal, and it almost seems like that from their inception they weren’t anything less than that – to be fair, when David Bowie buys all your CDs and distributes them to his friends, you aren’t exactly going to be just an overnight sensation.
And so “Funeral” became a landmark indie record, brimming with tunes and earnest that made the world fall in love with the Canadian band. Yet time has not been kind to their debut, with the production seeming at first charming now being utterly grating, and it lacks the slick, rehearsed nature of later records that made them a joy to listen to. But it still packs one hell of a punch, especially on cuts such as “Power Out” and “Rebellion” that will keep arenas and festivals screaming along until the world implodes in a nuclear haze.
Kieran [2nd]: When we compare Funeral, Reflektor and The Suburbs, we’re really looking at the finest of margins. All three are masterpieces in their own right, and a case could easily be made that Funeral deserves to occupy that top spot.
It’s simply staggering that any group – even one as absurdly talented as Arcade Fire – could release a debut as masterful as this. Far from what the title suggests, it’s neither melancholy nor downbeat; in fact, it’s a vibrant, empowering celebration of life and a wise-beyond-their-years contemplation of mortality, which manages to be uniquely relatable no matter your generation or demographic.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Wake Up is the finest track they’ve ever churned out – in fact, if you’ve ever managed to listen to it without welling up *at all*, consider our friendship terminated.
1. The Suburbs (2010)
Jake [1st]: Who’d of thunk that an album about a fake war in a fake town would be so fucking good? This is Arcade Fire’s masterpiece, a stone-cold classic in every sense of the word that’s only getting better and more relevant as the years go on.
From the understated, yet lavish (Half Light I, Sprawl I), to the utterly gargantuan love mainstays of Sprawl II and Ready to Start, each track compliments the other wonderfully and makes for not only the most cohesive album in AF’s discography but the best.
Josh [1st]: This is the one. Where else in Arcade Fire’s discography do the twin peaks of what attracts fans far and wide to them meet so perfectly? The earnestness of their earlier records combines with the ambitiousness of their later to make a concept album that just about anyone can relate to: growing up.
Win Butler’s lyrics are at the top of their game from start to finish, capturing the simultaneous wondrous and jaded nature of your young adult years, when the world is at your feet but all you can see is your hometown, and the performances feel rehearsed to fall apart at any second, from how energetic they are (“Month of May”) to just how damn emotionally tense the whole band can feel on a track (“Half Light II”).
There’s not a weak moment on the track-listing despite its fifteen song-long runtime, which is not something any of the other band’s albums can say never mind any other band in existence at the moment, and by its end, you’ll want to jump right back to the start. When the dust settles, “The Suburbs” will still be standing.
Kieran [1st]: I’ve always thought of The Suburbs as a grown up, 20-something version of Funeral. It’s been at the booze and the fags for a while too long and it’s a little more world-weary, a tad post-apocalyptic even, but it’s still achingly, endearingly human.
In my eyes, Funeral and The Suburbs are both as near as makes no difference perfect, making this an extremely difficult call to make. The latter edges it due to the sheer poeticism of its lyrics. Too numerous are they to list here, but the amount of times I’ve sat in sheer euphoria and appreciation hearing Win Butler’s signature wail on this record is scarcely believable.
Sarah [1st]: The showcase that is The Suburbs is potentially a genre-defining release, and almost definitely a career-defining one for Arcade Fire. With the ongoing support, garnered from the run of Funeral and Neon Bible, the band were absolutely pining for something more impressive, scale and concept wise.
The Suburbs follows a clear path from start to end, is filled with storytelling and is so powerfully emotive it makes the listers hairs stand on end. Ballads like the eponymous The Suburbs, We Used to Wait and Sprawl II propelled the band from venues to arenas, showing the music community that Arcade Fire we far more than just a music group – they were an experience, they are ethereal, atmospheric, creators.
The Suburbs proved them as a timeless band, whose music will provide an escape for anyone who needs, any time.