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Song of the Week: Arcade Fire Return with the Genuine and Cathartic “The Lightning I, II”

Normani, Sudan Archives, and Saya Gray also dropped essential tracks

arcade fire the lightning i ii
Arcade Fire, photo by Michael Marcelle
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    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Arcade Fire return to form with a blistering and emotional two-part track.


    After 2017’s Everything Now, Arcade Fire are back with a new pair of (linked) singles: “The Lightning I, II,” which is set to appear on their upcoming sixth studio album, WE, out May 6th. Arcade Fire are no stranger to sprawling (sorry) odysseys, and on “The Lightning,” they bring a sense of urgency that hasn’t been as present in the band’s catalog since Neon Bible.

    The first half of “The Lightning” has an air of theatrical drama, like it’s the end of Act 1 in a great big Arcade Fire rock opera, stacked with instruments, vocals, and trotting along with an ever-earnest attitude. It feels less like a lead single and more like the song the protagonist sings as he’s learned his lesson, and the message of commitment that Win Butler shares is a heart-on-your-sleeve, chips-on-the-table moment.

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    “You know that we’ve been beat down, and broken, but now, we can testify,” Butler sings, before landing on a chorus that shares a steadfast sentiment of refusing to quit, sticking together, and fighting until the last second.

    If this feels a bit on the nose, it’s because it is; what makes “The Lightning” so significant, however, is the full-band determination of getting back to where they started. From the ending of “Lightning 1” comes a shockingly quick speed up to what eventually becomes “Lightning 2,” which takes the community spirit of the song’s first half and throws it all on the burners.

    It’s one thing to hear the band embrace a scrappier, more urgent alternative rock sound after forays into disco-adjacent pop and ambitious concept records, but it’s a choice that reminds us all of how much power they can wield collectively, how they’re able to conjure a cathartic experience seemingly out of nothing.

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    That urgency comes in both halves through the ideas of being broken and rising to the occasion, and it feels directly inspired by the global strife that has affected everyone in the last few years—but it’s also something special to hear Arcade Fire reassert their place as a band that seeks to communicate in capital letters, with cannons of energy, fanfare, and all. If they’re waiting for “lightning” to strike, it’s already here.

    — Paolo Ragusa


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