“We can make it if you don’t quit on me. I won’t quit on you.” The Covid pandemic has tortured the health of the world’s population both physically and psychologically. Physicologically-drained survivors have felt anxiously lonely and isolated. Bringing upon feelings of depression and apocalyptic-fearing hopelessness. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne lived in their own Coronavirus bubble in one of the worst epicentres of the virus pandemonium, the United States of America. Consequently, the husband-and-wife have a good first hand experience of the panic-stricken effects that it had/still has on the human mind. Nonetheless the contagion has opened much of the Earth’s population to the idea of empathetic unity – something that might have been lost in the age of the smart phone – because all our lives were changed by the same hell. The world has many different cultures but this situation could question if we really that different from each other? On the customary-solo track from Régine Chassagne (which also features Peter Gabriel, known for this culture integrating music) ‘Unconditional II (Race and Religion)’, the Canadian with a Haitian heritage sings: “I’ll be your race and religion. You be my race and religion. This love is no superstition. United body and soul.” After all he collective spirit has cured people and has gotten many people through the sorrow.
Arcade Fire sixth album WE, is split into two parts that express polar opposite approaches on how to deal with the current world crises – not just Covid but climate change et al. The first chapter focuses on the mindset of being inward-thinking, alone and individually fearful. A mentality that could be comparable to the doom-fearing characters in the end-of-the-world film Melancholia. While the second half brings forward the idea that if “I” becomes a “WE” then problems can be solved as a collective union. It also embraces the idea that pain is just part of the cycle of life.
The first segment begins with ‘Age Of Anxiety I’ . This, like the majority of the songs on WE, have numbered counterparts that make them sound like sagas. Win Butler attempts to capture what modern day people generally feel and do in dreaded circumstances. Initially feeling frustrating confusion : “The age of doubt, And I doubt we’ll figure it out. Is it you or is it me?” and seclusion: “Another lost alien arriving on my spaceship”. The easiest way to cope is to have a distraction. They attempt to block it out with the aim to “fight the fever with TV” and taking anti-depressant medication. Among the piano and guitars, ‘Age of Anxiety I’ has a repeated use of gasping – something that is really effective in displaying a sense of astonishment, exhaustion and the will to escape. “Gotta get the spirit out of me. This anxiety that’s inside of me” demonstrates their desperate need to exorcism themselves of this worry.
‘End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)’ dramatically ends the first stage of WE, with the protagonist heading towards a super massive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way (Sagittarius A). Admitting that he will “unsubscribe” from the click bait of life and thinking that the best place to escape to would be perhaps the furthest place from Earth, so they can curiously “see one day what’s on the other side.” After saying that he will be assisted by Virgil – who guided Dante to the inferno afterlife in the poem The Divine Comedy – there are sparkles that capture the dream-like magic of Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination and then… a sudden CLAP.
Now the clap could signify the end? Or could it be a wake up-you-idiot slap in the face? Have they seen what is the other side and it has given them an enlightened awakening? ‘The Lightning Part I’ opens like the dawn of a new day, a new beginning and the “lightning” could refer to a much needed spark of positive energy or a luminous guide to follow: “The sky is breaking open, we keep hoping, in the distance we’ll see a glow. Lightning, light our way ’til the black sky turns back to indigo”. After all, what follows the drama of thunder is usually lightning. The uplifting track which blend seamlessly into a typical Arcade Fire oomphier second part, is just the first baby steps for Win Butler & co to learn this fresh way of thinking: “You know that we’ve been beat down and broken, but now we can testify”. Ultimately they would like to see humanity living as a WE: “We can make it if you don’t quit on me. I won’t quit on you. Don’t quit on me”.
Now that the previously-lamenting Win Butler and Reginé Chassagne have dug themselves out from their deep pit of self-pity, their aim is to spread this newfound wisdom onto their child. ‘Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)’ is supposed act as a recording for their child to hear on their iPhone 30 as their future adult self. It doesn’t offer any quick fixes or solutions but suggests the best way to mentally cope with it. Life will always have its tricky moments, but if you develop a thin skin and accept that pain is part of the process, it’s a little easier to enjoy. “A lifetime of skinned knees. And heartbreak comes so easy. But a life without pain would be boring.”
2017’s Everything Now has cyclical album structure, as it starts and ends with a similar track, allowing the record to be played in a continuous loop as a commentary about streaming. Lyrically rather than musicallly, WE has an endless cycle thought. This time Win wants to repeat life’s inevitable rollercoaster as a unified set of souls: “Already know ‘I’. I wanna know ‘We’. Would you want to get off this ride with me? When everything ends, can we do it again?” On the next occasion he won’t shy away from the anxiety by going in search for some intergalactic exit. He will be prepared, hand in hand with another, and with a plan in helping the future generation to follow suit.