Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arcade Fire: Culture War/Speaking in Tongues review

Arcade Fire - Culture War by ListenBeforeYouBuy
Arcade Fire - Speaking In Tongues by ListenBeforeYouBuy
After The Suburbs, I find it hard to judge Arcade Fire songs in isolation because the strength of that album is how it works as a whole and how songs that sound slight in isolation take on a grander quality in the context of the album. These two tracks, Speaking in Tongues and Culture War are the two bonus tracks on the deluxe version of that album which will be released soon and again, in isolation sound like passable Arcade Fire numbers. They are beautiful in their way but aren’t remarkable or stand out in the oeuvre of the band. They are no call to arms like Wake Up or Keep the Car Running that stand alone but run along the more loping tunes that are the backbone of the Suburbs.

If Culture War was left off the original mix of The Suburbs, I would imagine it’s because it sounds like a downbeat, dirtier cousin of the title track. The rollicking roll of the song and guitar line are both reminiscent of The Suburbs but misses the falsetto beauty of that song’s chorus. Beyond that, it is a sweet evocation of the limitations of popular culture - “I know these crumbs they sold me are never going to last” Win Butler coos at the beginning. Isn’t Win Butler too young to be so jaded or has rock stardom prematurely aged him?

Speaking in Tongues is not the Arcade Fire’s first dalliance with Talking Heads having faithfully covered This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) some years ago. However, having a track featuring David Byrne immediately makes you realise that Win Butler shares vocal similarities with the head Talker – mainly, the subtle strain in the upper registers and the emotive timbre which always made Byrne such a compelling singer. I’m less sure what this song is about but obviously communication (or lack thereof) is at its heart. The little whoops and backing melodies towards the end of the song are pure Byrne and remind us that Talking Heads influence is wide ranging and pervasive.

Both songs are low key but worthy additions to The Suburbs story. It’ll be interesting to see how they are incorporated into the album proper and whether they add to the narrative or detract. Either way, it’s good to hear some new Arcade Fire even if the music is slightly sedate.


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