A Few More Thoughts On Arcade Fire.


I know we’ve been down this road before (not only here but here), but I think it’s also worth mentioning that if Radiohead’s “2+2=5” is criticism — a badgering and well-deserved wallop to the upside of the head — then “Wake Up” is constructive criticism, and we love it for that. It even gives us a second to get ready: the reverb growls, Jeremy Gara pivots left and right on his drum kit, and then the heavy weight of the train begins to churn ever steadily forward: the C, the cresting of the strings, the drums coming in on the one, and then — after a bar or so — the take off, the implosion, and the sudden appearance of a balloon sailing out of the cloud of dust of the wreckage. (And “who knows if the moon’s a balloon, coming out of a keen city,” anyway?)

What’s interesting, though, is that the song is so musically simple that it avoids being devoured by the overgrown algae paradise of bootlegs that is YouTube. The song is built on cowboy chords, and that’s it. Lefty Frizell could knock out a cover of it. And think of those wound tight cowboy sibilants, too: something, someone, older, colder. And if the Western has transmogrified itself from a fairly recognizable Bad Day at Black Rock or something generally John Ford-y to Breaking Bad, then why can’t we say that “Cold, Cold Heart” has made its way up to Montreal by way of Texas?

There is the jangle of the open ‘E’ that’s muted with the thumb after a point during the opening chord. Why, there’s the temptation to half-fret/half-mute the entire thing when it’s just you and your guitar. And is that to wink at the size and volume at which the song is typically played and typically performed? Is it to prove that it’s the same song in both circumstances? A bit of both? The Richie Havens-styled omni-strum seems possible here as well.

And if hearing Regine sing counterpoint during the chorus is so affecting — especially during their 2007 performance at Glastonbury — then perhaps it’s an indication of what could happen if there was a third melody line added to the chorus — and then a fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on. This would only happen near the end, mind you, perhaps as a way to further build things up before the transition to the lines about lightning bolts flowing, because one thing that always works with blues structures and open chord structures is that you’re often in a position to turn a simple machine into a Rube Goldberg machine — to take the bass note as Leo Kottke often does and add that as an accompanying, more dynamic feature, not to rid the song of syncopation entirely, but to give you the chance to render movement to something that would otherwise be achingly static and set in amber for everyone in Victorian garb to lift up their opera glasses to see.