Arcade Fire has become one of the world’s biggest bands, but has veered from what made them great earlier in their career.
If a band’s music can stand in for its ambitions, then Arcade Fire was always going to be one of the world’s biggest rock groups.
The Montreal sextet’s lauded debut “Funeral” is fit for arenas and remains something like a Platonic ideal of indie rock: towering, cathartic songs whose themes of love, death and growing up were painted in broad strokes. Thirteen years after that standout record (and after winning an album-of-the-year Grammy for 2010’s “The Suburbs”), Arcade Fire has become the globally famous rock band their sound always predicted they would.
When Arcade Fire plays KeyArena on Sunday, Oct. 15, it will be supporting the weakest album of its career; even the best acts drop the occasional dud. What’s unfortunate is how this latest version of the band undermines why people loved them to begin with.
7:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15, KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; $24-$81 (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com).
On July’s “Everything Now,” an album about the effects of technology and social media on the modern psyche, the band has changed its tone from bright-eyed and edifying to knowing and more than a little cynical. The record’s protracted rollout included creating a fictional company (Everything Now Corp.) that sells $100 fidget spinners, getting embroiled in a controversy over the dress code at an Apple-sponsored concert, and writing a fake review of the album that lampooned popular indie-music website Stereogum.
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Considering it was Arcade Fire’s heart-on-sleeve sincerity that defined the band since the beginning, it’s striking to see it embrace irony and insidery meta-humor. Whether it was the grandiose arrangements, frontman Win Butler’s plaintive vocals or the band’s animated live performances, you could always be confident there was no artifice to the band’s work. It’s this quality that made “Funeral,” “Neon Bible” and “The Suburbs” resonate with so many.
Call it aloofness or didacticism, Arcade Fire’s new attitude is just as evident in the music itself. Butler tends to talk at his listeners rather than speaking to them, and his lyrics rarely probe beneath surface level. (“Infinite content / We’re infinitely content” goes the refrain on two separate songs called “Infinite Content,” which is also the name of this tour.)
When these freshman seminar-level concepts — among them, ”technology alienates us” and “kids these days spend too much time looking at their phones” — are examined so superficially, they might as well be delivered between puffs of vape smoke.
But even when Butler lays out the new album’s themes with all the subtlety of a Banksy cartoon, Arcade Fire’s music is still sonically resplendent. The band brought in Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter as a co-producer on “Everything Now,” and the album’s slick, disco-oriented sound is an extension of the Bowie-influenced dance-rock Arcade Fire began exploring on 2013’s “Reflektor.” Genre experiments like glam throwback “Chemistry” are as instantly polarizing as the band’s newly standoffish posture, but they’re a welcome risk.
This tour features the group’s most ambitious live show to date: a theater-in-the-round-style stage with wraparound video screens. Even if the latest iteration of Arcade Fire lacks the ingenuity or charm of the original, its music — new and old — has always been designed for the biggest rooms.