As much as I consume and appreciate music, there are few bands and artists I actively follow, in the sense that a new album release is a day one purchase for me and I will endeavour to see their latest live show when they come to tour. Roughly a decade since their breakthrough debut album Funeral, it’s safe to say that Arcade Fire has earned that place for me. Having recently seen a pretty stonking show at Earls Court, I am now even more excited for their headlining slot at Glastonbury, so now seems a good a time as any to pick out ten tracks of theirs in an arbitrary fashion as is the case with these kind of features.
This list is not necessarily representative of their oeuvre (though the choices are fairly evenly spread), does not cater specifically for novice or expert, and I would not even consider them all the ‘best’ tracks. It’s a mix of the essentials and the underappreciated, the minor triumphs and the major triumphs. Any other day, I might pick a different ten. But here, for now, is my Arcade Fire in Ten.
- Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) – from Funeral
For many and for myself, the first song of theirs I heard (being that it is track one, album one), and also quite possibly my favourite – which perhaps suggests the band has just gotten subsequently worse ever since. Nostalgic for an imagined past, making the intimate feel epic and vice-versa, ‘Tunnels’ sets the scene for everything to come, and works as a perfect encapsulation of the Arcade Fire sound.
- Wake Up – from Funeral
Two for two from Funeral (well, it is my favourite album of theirs still). And the epic conclusion to many a live show. Its sing-a-long-a quality is unmatched, something I sometimes find irksome at gigs, but given there are usually so many members on stage doing the same thing, it seems appropriate to join in the crowd. And a song this grandiose deserves it. But that it works as a beautiful semi-stripped-back version for the trailer for occasional collaborator Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is further proof of its quality regardless of how many people are shouting in unison.
- Keep The Car Running – from Neon Bible
A song I listened to a great deal when I first got hold of the album. I was in Japan at the time, and had the whole of Neon Bible was on heavy rotation, and despite its doom and gloom, I found it comforting, a strange reminder of home. ‘Keep The Car Running’ in particular would often accompany my long walk from the station back to my dorm, and dark rainy nights and this song feel inseparable to me now.
- Half Light I – from The Suburbs
There are showier, bigger, more typically Arcade Fire tracks on their third album. And as good as they are, I don’t think any of them quite as close to those on Funeral or Neon Bible, so it’s the smaller songs from that album that I find the most interesting. And ‘Half Light I’ is remarkably effective, quiet and understated at first but building into something unexpectedly powerful.
- Neighborhood #2 (Laika) – from Funeral
Here’s another song that evokes a yearning for home and family and one that also seems appropriate whenever travelling and away from loved ones. Arcade Fire:the melancholic backpacker’s soundtrack of choice. Perhaps the second best song referencing a dog in space (see also Hank Pine and Lily Fawn), ‘Laika’ could easily be swapped out for any other track on Funeral perhaps, but it simply gets me every time.
- (Antichrist Television Blues) – from Neon Bible
A tough choice picking between this and ‘Intervention’ or ‘Windowsill’ for the songs from Neon Bible that are heavy on lyrics, both in quantity and subject matter, and the album’s themes. Bit much for some, but I personally love them all. ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ (these guys sure love parentheses, right?) just about pips it for Win Butler’s delivery, filled with sadness, anger, hope, just about everything really. It’s a hell of a performance.
- Reflektor – from Reflektor
On hearing the title track from Arcade Fire’s most recent release, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, despite its credentials (LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy producing, King Zavid on backing vocals – having previous form on this version of ‘Wake Up’ here). But it swiftly won me over, and a clear statement of the album as a whole. It does seem a roundabout way of doing it, putting an awful lot of work into sounding more spontaneous, and seems to turn into Metronomy’s ‘The Look’ – though there is past form here, with ‘Sprawl II’ evoking Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Wake Up’ transmuting into The Jam’s ‘A Town Called Malice’. Yet ‘Reflektor’ remains bubbling, exciting, groovy and infectious.
- Empty Room – from The Suburbs
Another short and sweet number from The Suburbs, it’s filled with stabbing, driving urgency. It’s a shame it doesn’t seem to have risen high in the ranks of must-listen album tracks, perhaps on account of it not really going anywhere over a short space of time. But if it’s effectively jogging on the spot in album terms, it is doing it very very well in my view.
- It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) – from Reflektor
One of Reflektor’s later and less party-primed tracks, ‘It’s Never Over’ comes out rocking but winds up something darker and deeper. Fair enough. But seeing it performed live at Earls Court, complete with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne (plus backing skeletons) dueting on different stages and separated by a sea of audience members, was what really sold it for me. And basing this song (and indeed the album cover) on one of my favourite Greek myths helps a bunch too.
- Headlights Look Like Diamonds – from Arcade Fire EP
And finally, the token pre-album/curio/B-side track! One could cheat and go with ‘No Cars Go’, a re-recorded version of which would later appear on Neon Bible, but as a blueprint for what Arcade Fire would go on to create, it serves as a useful primer, while being a pretty great song in its own right.
10 Arcade Fire tracks there in a fairly solid order of preference, and if you fancy hearing them all in a slightly different, deliberately curated order, then I’ve prepared a Spotify playlist which you can stream below, or simply click here to open.