Electrifying, melancholic, and a little odd—Arcade Fire’s WE is a trip from start to finish.
Formed in 2001, Montreal-based band Arcade Fire is no stranger to the music scene. With multiple nominations and wins under their belt—including a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011—it’s clear that they know how to execute new ideas and turn them into something great. With the release of WE, they add a sixth studio album to their catalogue.
The process of creating the album lasted over two years, beginning before the world shut down in March 2020 and ending with a release earlier this year. Made up of ten tracks divided into four chapters, WE follows the progression from living with feelings of hopelessness and isolation to fully understanding and accepting the nature of the universe.
The first chapter of the album includes “Age of Anxiety I” and “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)”. By mixing a quiet tone, the sound of someone breathing rapidly layered with the vocals, and short, powerful verses, Arcade Fire perfectly encapsulates the feeling of anxiety. As the first song picks up, the urgency of the lyrics becomes more apparent (“Are you talking to me or about me?”) until it slows and morphs into something completely different with the second song. One fan, on the site Genius Lyrics, has speculated that there might be a connection between the lyrics of “Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)” and falling down the rabbit hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is described as “a situation that is so bizarre and strange. . .” Simply put, there is no better way to describe this song and the feelings it elicits.
Following a thirty-second prelude, “End of The Empire I-III” and “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)” make up the second chapter of the album. In “End of The Empire I-III”, strings make the tune particularly sluggish and downcast while the combination of a variety of instruments in the second half adds a powerful note in contrast. Now, five tracks into the album—and marking the halfway point—it feels as though the overarching tone has been set. It’s clear that songs of the rock genre—which the band has been affiliated with—are unlikely to be heard this time around.
As one might anticipate based on the album’s first half, “The Lightning I” is not a loud, upbeat song. However, it is clear within seconds that, despite this, it is unlike the other tracks. There is something different about the beat; it feels lighter, happier, quicker—but not too quick. The track increases in tempo until it bleeds seamlessly into “The Lighting II”—the only song that will energize listeners and have them clapping along. Storywise, these songs signify a shift in the mood, offering feelings of hope and encouragement instead of loss and uncertainty.
In the fourth and final chapter, Arcade Fire sings about unconditional love. Building upon the change of sound heard in “The Lightning”, “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” continues with a more cheerful sound. In this song, lead singer Win Butler essentially sings to his son about his future. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Butler expresses his concern over what his son will inevitably have to grapple with as he gets older. As a result, track eight offers up some advice (“Lookout kid, trust your mind / But you can’t trust it everytime”) and provides comfort without ever turning the song into a tragic one. When part one ends, the tempo once again begins to slow to a crawl with “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” which then brings the album to its denouement with the title track: “WE”.
“WE” sees the album come full circle as a soft, gentle sound reemerges and the realization that the cycle will repeat itself becomes clear. The song crescendos and then quietens one last time to signal the end, much like a roller coaster.
Save for a few songs which briefly introduce a change of pace, the album as a whole is quite mellow and gloomy. The lyrics can, at times, be difficult to swallow and leave you feeling disheartened. Although it is not an exciting collection of songs, the album does excel in crafting a story and seeing it through to the end.