One Man’s Desperate Attempt to Find a Reason to Like the Arcade Fire


There is a thing where people get on the internet and express a strong, contrary opinion in the interests of getting other people angry. This is not that thing. There is a thing where a person sees a lot of other people getting excited about a cultural phenomenon and the punk rock in them moves them to hate that cultural phenomenon. This is not that thing either. (Hopefully.) This is a genuine attempt to understand something that we know we ought to but decidedly don’t: why do people like the Arcade Fire so much? Because we don’t, and never have, and we’re tired of just listening to The Suburbs and feeling confused and vaguely irritated. So we’re trying an experiment. On the occasion of release of their third record, which most of the world seems to really outright adore, we took it upon ourselves to look around the internet and deep into our own heart and try to figure out why this band means so much to so many. There’s a lot out there on this subject. We read some of it. So: why like the Arcade Fire?

Because they give to charity. And not like other rock bands, either. Our favorite example is when they licensed “Wake Up” to Super Bowl XLIV and forced the NFL to pay the exorbitant fee to Partners in Health. But as Vanity Fair points out, the band has been giving money to Haiti since 2005. Since then, the Arcade Fire have established a “one dollar, one euro, one pound” touring policy, donating a dollar off every ticket sold. VF pegs the amount of money that’s garnered so far to be in the $800,000 range. Not bad.

Because beyond that, they just seem like good people. “Being in a rock band,” Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler tells Pitchfork this morning, “I feel a certain responsibility to have a weird haircut.” Likeable!

Because they “have become indie rock’s last great hope of finally expanding outside the boho bar scene and into something like normal middle America.” This theory comes courtesy of eMusic’s J. Edward Keyes. And the fact that “Wake Up” was beamed into the homes of the estimated 153 million people who watched last year’s Super Bowl certainly seems to bear his argument out. Whether indie rock really needs to be inflicted on middle America is debatable. But we take the point: it’s pretty much them and Pavement out there, making it safe for us to get out of cars at Texas gas stations.

Because they work with Spike Jonze and Terry Gilliam. The “cool friends” theory, as pioneered by Sonic Youth and Lou Reed. Bands will always have a magnetic attraction when they seem to represent some impossibly perfect demimonde. If Terry Gilliam just happens to direct your webcasts and you make short films with Spike Jonze, just because, then people will probably want to be down with your movement. Especially when Bruce Springsteen is involved.

Because they take a pretty rad picture.

Because Win Butler and Régine Chassagne are a good couple. Yeah, I mean, look up right now. In this, they join an underrated rock lineage that includes Kim and Thurston, Lindsey and Stevie, Johnny and June, and so on and so forth. People love to watch what seems like an epic, genuine romance play out in public.

Because they keep the great indie label Merge afloat. Funeral recently surpassed Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as the label’s best-selling record ever. Anything that funds new LPs from Superchunk is good with us. Especially in an era where both Touch & Go and Lookout! have folded. Merge and Matador are two of the last real indie warhorses left.

Does this make us any less likely to wince at Butler’s tremulous falsetto or the band’s fussy, baroque instrumentation? Any more inclined to like their penchant for being overly dramatic and breaking songs into two separate, lofty parts? Not particularly. But we think we get it, sort of: they are the good guys. And people respond to that…right?