Arcade Fire: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire were founded in Montreal in 2001. The band is centered around the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, while Butler’s brother Will was a member until 2021. The current lineup, including touring members, has nine musicians, and they often incorporate unusual instrumentation like accordion and hurdy-gurdy alongside usual rock instrumentation. Win Butler is more charismatic than most indie rock singers, earnest and impassioned like Springsteen.

Arcade Fire have enjoyed critical and commercial success, especially over their first decade. Their 2004 debut Funeral is one of the most acclaimed records of the decade, while 2010’s The Suburbs topped the US charts and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. Arcade Fire have recently released their sixth album, We – how does it stack up compared to the rest of their discography?

Arcade Fire Albums Ranked

#6 Everything Now

Arcade Fire’s fifth album feels directionless – it often follows the dance stylings of Reflektor, but without the grounding in Haitian and Jamaican sounds. They’re left with a pop-oriented record that often feels hollow. The unconventional instrumentation like accordion, xylophone, and recorders that gave their other work a distinctive flavour is largely absent here. There’s a particularly rough stretch in the middle of the record with the plastic soul of ‘Chemistry’ and the trite pun that anchors ‘Infinite Content’.

#5 Reflektor

Butler and Chassagne visited Haiti, the place where Chassagne’s family came from. The sounds of Haiti and Jamaica inspired Arcade Fire’s fourth album. They also worked with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, creating a record that’s much more dance-oriented than anything Arcade Fire had released previously. Butler later told Rolling Stone “we just wanted to make a record that Régine could dance to.” It’s overlong, with a lot of tracks running over six minutes, but it’s an invigorating change of direction when it works – the danceable title track is a particular highlight.

#4 We

Arcade Fire started working on We before the COVID pandemic, but it feels like a reaction to it, given song titles like ‘Age of Anxiety’. After flirting with dance beats on their previous album, it sounds like a retrenchment of their earlier sound – songs like ‘We’ and ‘The Lightning I’ are as good as anything in their catalogue. It’s also more inconsistent than their earlier work – in particular, ‘End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A)’ comes across like a bad OK Computer track. Peter Gabriel provides guest vocals on ‘Unconditional II (Rage and Religion)’.

#3 Neon Bible

Having established their career with Funeral, Neon Bible was a commercial success and peaked at #2 on the US charts. It’s not as raw as Funeral – instead, Arcade Fire play a grandiose Americana that recalls Springsteen and Dylan. With Butler’s vocals upfront and surrounded by cavernous echo, Neon Bible feels distant and dystopian. ‘No Cars Go’ is a driving rocker recycled from the band’s debut EP. The Butler brothers were raised Mormon, and there are spiritual overtones on songs like ‘My Body is a Cage’ and ‘The Well and the Lighthouse’.

#2 The Suburbs

The Suburbs marked the peak of Arcade’s Fire success – it topped the Billboard charts and won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year. It reflects the upbringing of the Butler siblings in Houston’s suburbs – Win Butler describes it as “a letter from the suburbs”. Musically, The Suburbs reflects the bands that Butler was fascinated by when he was young – a blend of Depeche Mode and Neil Young. Like the suburbs it’s named for, the album is sprawling, running for over an hour. But there are lots of great songs tucked away in its grooves – highlights include the twitchy ‘Modern Man’ and Chassagne’s vocal spotlight on the synth-pop of ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’.

#1 Funeral

The title of Arcade Fire’s debut is taken from the family deaths that the band members had experienced recently, including the Butlers’ grandfather, big band leader Alvino Rey. In comparison with the $1.6 million cost of recording Reflektor, it took a mere $10,000 to make Funeral. It’s the band at their rawest, with tracks like ‘Neighbourhood 3 (Power Cut)’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. It immediately set the band’s career at a high bar that they’ve never bettered.

Did I underrate your favourite Arcade Fire record?

What Is Your Favourite Album by Arcade Fire?

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  1. A band I’ve heard (most recently on Saturday Night Live) and to which I’ve always said ‘meh.’ Nothing they’ve done really grabs me. Maybe I’ll give ‘Funeral’ a spin.

  2. As a Canadian and music fan (actually born in Mtl) I appreciate this post and agree with all of your choices.

    The new songs are good I think, (lightning and the other one they are starting to play on Indy radio) so I’m hopeful they will never “jump the shark”.

    Seen them a few times live.

    I love the suburbs.

    My favourite AF song is “Intervention “. Neon bible. Makes the album.

    • I think my rating is pretty close to consensus – maybe the battle between Reflektor and We for 4th is the most controversial part, as I suspect lots of people would opt for Reflektor.

      I’ve been pretty obsessed with The Lightning I this week, hence the post.

      I had a bad experience with Intervention once – our friends came around to play board games, and the randomiser served up ‘Intervention’. It was the worst possible choice, as the female of the couple worked for the church and had some tough times with her mental health. “Working for the church while my family dies/Your little baby sister’s gonna lose her mind”… I was sitting there hoping she wasn’t listening to the words.

  3. I’m completely new to this band. As such, it’s hard to make a fully comment. Based on sampling a couple of tunes from each of the albums, spontaneously, I think I’m mostly drawn to their first two albums. The dance influence on some of their later albums isn’t my cup of tea, though I should spend more time before making such definitive comments.

    • That’s dedication – thanks for listening. I really like ‘The Lightning 1’ off their latest – feels like it could have been off one of their early records.

    • There does seem to be a clearer pecking order than usual – only one big dissenter so far.

  4. I liked them better when they started doing dance music. I think the album was the one you have for #6. I still didn’t like them a REAL lot though, just a little. Except for that song on the first album that I used to hear all the time.

    • What song was that? I don’t necessarily mind them doing dance – it’s just that Reflektor is very long and I’m not that fond of Everything Now.

      • The song I was talking about from the first album is Rebellion. To me they always sounded like just post-punk, with those early ’80s drums and beats, and everything else about them really. And Everything Now still sounded like early ’80s, but instead of ’80s post-punk, this time it sounded like ’80s synth pop. And it has more modern sounds, closer to what you would hear in contemporary dance music. So it just had more appeal to me than the earlier stuff. I wonder what the new one is like. I bet it goes even more further into contemporary dance music.

        • New one is more like a retrenchment of their early sound – sounds most like Neon Bible IMO.

    • Yeah, I think Suburbs probably has more good songs, but I appreciate the intensity of Funeral,

  5. I don’t know much about them but I listened to a few throughout their career. I do like the odd instruments they used at first…they were lively. I don’t like their newer music as much.

  6. Absolutely agree here. The first three are 5/5 masterpieces as far as I am concerned. On some days I might put The Suburbs above Funeral, other than that your ranking is my ranking.

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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