Behind Arcade Fire’s messianic Have to save our souls


Somethin’ filled up, my heart with nothin’
Someone advised me not to shout.

Now that I’m older, my heart’s colder, And I will see that it is anbsp;lie.

With their debut album Funeral in 2004, Win Butler and Arcade Fire advised us to wake up, our hearts were meant to bleed. A couple of years later, with the release of their fifth album, Everything Today, they are still at it, exposing lies and telling large truths, brooding in the basement and hollering from the rooftops — with a zeal some may callnbsp;messianic.

That might seem a surprising word for a group that, nowadays, often seems determined to get us out on the dance floor, but spiritual themes thread the canon of Arcade Fire and its front-man lyricist, a Mormon-raised American who earned a degree in religious studies at Montreal’s McGillnbsp;University.

The band’s most recent album proves that Butler’s a guy with a message. On the tune Electric Blue off Everything Today, Butler’s wife and bandmate, Régine Chassagne, may be the one handling the vocals, but she acknowledges him as the one standing in the pulpit. “Jesus Christ, what could I do,” she sings, confused and frustrated. “I do not know how to sing yournbsp;blues.”

That JC reference might be a throwaway expletive, a sign of her growing frustration. But this is Win Butler she is referring to. It’s more probable that those two words are acknowledging what fans and critics have seen him for years: He is a stone solid roll saviour yearning to save the souls of hisnbsp;listeners.

Butler’s not a messiah from the biblical rise-from-the-dead sense. But he provides rescue from our shabbier instincts: A stone ‘n’ roll deliverance from a world that is materially obsessed and emotionally dead. Think about the tune Infinite Content in the new album, which comes in two forms (a racing Bowie-esque rocker, followed by a loping acoustic wink to Wilco) and using a play on words: boundless articles/ infinitely content. It is about unstopping consumerism, insatiable needs and infinite supplies. Butler may want us to dance, but he is decided to help us connect with our humanity also — and possibly even ournbsp;spirits.

God understands rock ‘n’ roll needs a saviour . ” [Hip hop] continues to be extremely relevant over the past ten decades and rock music is just not any more,” Butler said recently. “A tear rolls down my cheek as I saynbsp;that.”

Trust Butler to make rock applicable again. He is a message-caster, a sermonizer, a fearless pedant and a broad-shouldered, bad-haircut polarizer who sells heavy euphoria by thenbsp;tune.

But before we give Butler his due, let us pause for a moment to admit the stone ‘n’ roll messiahs who have come beforenbsp;him.

They made their initial appearances decades ago, right around the time when Patti Smith and her then-lover Sam Shepard introduced the one-act drama Cowboy Mouth, about prospective rock stars trying to find a newnbsp;faith.

“The old God is simply too far off,” declared Smith’s character, Cavale. “Any great … rock ‘n’ roll tune can raise me higher than all ofnbsp;Revelations.”

This was 1971, the same year Jesus Christ Superstar made its debut on Broadway and the exact same year John Lennon asked the world to imagine there was “no religion too.” In the decade or so that followed, rock music flourished and expanded its reach, reason andnbsp;chances.

There was Lennon, the dreamer, and Smith, the mysterious poet. Bob Marley was the One Love. U2’s Bono, the grandstander, came afterwards. Bono sings about “trying to throw your arms around the world,” that is exactly what rock messiahs try tonbsp;do.

They galvanize and mesmerize. They’ve megaphone outlooks, anthemically delivered romantic thoughts, diehard pretension. Let’s not forget Kanye, who in 2013 gave us the boldly enigmatic and aptly called Yeezus.

But as the rock messiahs raise bars, they raise ire, also, offending us with their excruciating audacity. (Can we prefer bland kingdoms headed by Ed Sheerans and Taylor Swifts rather? God — and the rock messiahs — helpnbsp;us{})

Butler has come in for his fair share of criticism and fan backlash. He and his group have been accused of being self-aggrandizing and excessively didactic since Arcade Fire’snbsp;beginning.

The world took note early on. In April, 2005, the Canadian edition of Time magazine proclaimed Arcade Fire as Canada’s most fascinating rock group, noting that critics the world over were in love with the nation’s “hottest musical export{}” (The “musical” qualifier being a essential appeasement to the softwood-lumbernbsp;audience.)

Almost a decade later, in 2014, Rolling Stone magazine upped the stakes by posing the burning rhetorical question, Can Arcade Fire Be The World’s Largest Band? Indeed, the Montreal-based outfit has come a longnbsp;manner.

Arcade Fire is still coming, and the pressure may be getting to Butler, frequently criticized in the past for his prickly perfectionism. “Trumpets of angels, call for my mind,” he sings on Put Your Money on Me, a low-riding Blondie-style pop-rock pleasure off Everything Today. “But I struggle through the ether, and I will stop when I’mnbsp;dead{}”

Backlash is the almost inescapable flip side of success when it comes to a group such as Arcade Fire, which left its little American independent label Merge Records after 2010’s The Suburbs. This record, the group’s third, won a Grammy and a Juno for the year’s top album, in addition to a BRIT Award for the best internationalnbsp;LP.

The 2013 follow-up Reflektor, inspired by a trip to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti, premiered on major label Universal. For Everything Today, the group has jumped to another important,nbsp;Columbia.

For your Reflektor tour, Butler controversially suggested those attending the concerts should don costumes or dress in formal attire for the event — a hint, to some, the front man was carrying his music and its message a bit too seriously. The presumptuousness caused outrage among fans and music authors, but Arcade Fire’s management learned nonbsp;classes.

Ticket holders for the group’s intimate Everything Today album launching this week in Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall were requested via email to refrain from wearing “shorts, big logos, flip-flops, tank tops, crop shirts, baseball hats, solid white or rednbsp;clothes.”

The flip-flop ban is simply good sense, however, the group’s overbearing messaging is becoming too much for some. “There is no more embarrassing band on Earth, concerning music and their entire thing,” one tweet read. Another tweeted, “with a dress code in their shows is the least insufferable thing Arcade Fire has evernbsp;done.”

(The group’s social-media supervisor later took responsibility for the email and issued a sorry-not-sorry apology. “Sue me for wanting something pleasant,” Tannis Wright stated in anbsp;announcement.)

As Arcade Fire’s undisputed leader, derisive evaluation is Butler’s cross to bear. The rock messiahs who came before him have felt his pain. “Christ, how things are going,” John Lennon sang on The Ballad of John and Yoko, “they are likely to crucifynbsp;me{}”

However they find ways to comply. Just ask Bono. Though his appeal has waxed and waned over U2’s massively successful career, the singer with the shaded lenses has demonstrated a remarkable ability to weather any storms of acceptance to come out as irritating — and sermonizing — asnbsp;ever.

The sermons and religious questioning from Butler continue with Everything Today, produced by the group and Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey. “Love is hard, sex is simple,” Butler sings on the Signs of Life, a bubbling, bass-driven cut which could raise dead Bee Gees. “God in heaven, could you pleasenbsp;me?”

The dilemma of suicide is increased on Great God Damn, a slow piece of seventies blue-eyed funk. “You wanna say goodbye, to your oldest friends … maybe there is a great God,nbsp;damn.”

And Peter Pan delivers something of an homage to Bruce Springsteen, a generational hero who electrified a drifting, disillusioned herd. Born to Run references a woman named Wendy and a runaway American dream. On Peter Pan, Butler sings, “Be my Wendy,” while imagining a “dead-eyed Americannbsp;fantasy.”

Even though the record’s title-tune first single is musically buoyant, with a sampled flute and an Abba-esque swirl, the tune’s anti-Internet message is not of the Dancing Queennbsp;type.

“I don’t think anybody knew when we were signing up for Gmail accounts, that we would be receiving direct advertising of things we write in our personal e-mails,” Butler recently told Reuters site 3voor12. “It turns out it was kind of hijacking all human content and turning it intonbsp;cash.”

The reception of this album Everything Now is guaranteed to be combined, as frequently is the case with artists who aim high and seem to switch their audio from record tonbsp;album.

“Every record we set out, there has been some folks who’ve been like, ‘Oh no, they have dropped it, they suck now,'” Butler said in the 3voor12 interview. “I kind of knew early on that those people were notnbsp;right.”

Butler demands much out of his group as well as much of his lovers. Some of the latter will fall by the wayside. That can not be helped. Rock messiahs have a look at the larger picture, fight through the ether and just stop if they’renbsp;dead.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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