Depending on who you ask, fans of modern rock either love or hate Arcade Fire. After the critically panned Everything Now, fans were left wondering if the group would double down on the 80’s synth pop sound with trite lyrics or make a “return to form” album. The answer seems to be both. Arcade Fire’s sixth studio album, WE, is titled after the influential dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Ironically though, for a band whose previous output always had thematically similar lyrics to tie the album together, the album that borrows the title from a dystopian novel seems to lack an overt overall theme.
Coming in at only seven full songs and about 40 minutes, WE doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything extraneous. The album opens with “Age of Anxiety I,” a dancing and grooving track that feels like a typical Arcade Fire song with the lyrics ‘And the pills do nothing for me/In the age of Anxiety’. The strongest tracks on the album are unsurprisingly the first single from WE, “The Lightning I & The Lightning II”. The two tracks merge seamlessly together to form a single song with the same lyrical theme and is one of the better tracks the band has put out in years, mainly because it sounds like the Arcade Fire of the past.
Musically, “End of the Empire I-III” is a very strong track with dark synths and dynamic, building instrumentation. Lyrically, it is the weakest on the album as Win Butler builds to singing ‘I unsubscribe’ over and over before yelling ‘Fuck season 5’, whether this is a cheeky reference to their fifth album’s unfavorable reception or just because it rhymes is up for debate. A Regine song on any album can be a crap shoot as to whether it’ll be one of the stronger songs on the album or the weakest, and on WE “Unconditional II (Race & Religion)” definitely falls in the later category of being a skippable track. The synth pop sound with Chassagne’s unique singing style comes off as a cheesy pop song that would be more at home on a Chvrches album. The album’s closer is the title track and is more of an acoustic number that builds slightly as it progresses and does a great job in bringing the album to a close.
As a whole, WE is a fairly good album and would be better received if it wasn’t an Arcade Fire album. The success of their first three albums definitely puts added pressure on the group and they might never live up to the expectations of their fans moving forward. Snagging Nigel Godrich as a producer for WE was a smart move as the album feels more layered than their past few albums and he may have had an influence on getting them “back to roots”.