Arcade Fire: We review – a welcome return to form | Arcade Fire

From seemingly being on the brink of U2-esque stadium success with 2010’s Grammy-winning The Suburbs, Arcade Fire rather lost their way with their next two albums. The Bowie-indebted, James Murphy-produced Reflektor was overlong and bloated. The highlights of 2017’s Everything Now, meanwhile, were too often compromised by heavy-handed satire. We feels like a step back from the brink.

For a start, there’s no extraneous fat in its seven-track, 40-minute running time, each song earning its place, nothing outstaying its welcome. It’s very much a record of two halves, with side 1 insular and claustrophobic in mood, the four-part End of the Empire a particularly compelling blend of bleakness and beauty. Side 2 is far warmer, at times even joyous. The Lightning I, II has a sublime gear change midway through and suddenly echoes the motorik Springsteenisms of the War on Drugs, all shot through with the air of euphoria that defined Arcade Fire’s early records. The hushed title track is as minimalist as they get, and owes much of its tune to Big Thief’s sublime Cattails. Meanwhile, Unconditional II (Race and Religion), featuring a low-key Peter Gabriel guest spot, combines a Régine Chassagne vocal with 80s synthpop backing to fine, if slightly incongruous, effect. A welcome return to form.

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