Dear Arcade Fire: No More Covers On This Tour, Please
Arcade Fire's Win Butler at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, May 2011
Photo by Marc Brubaker
Folks, I have made it no secret over the years that I am no fan of what Arcade Fire does. The Woodlands expats make lightweight pretentious rock for hipsters and bored suburban kids. That's fine, because it's a market that apparently Jason Mraz wasn't quite cornering well enough.
But now they have crossed the line with me. On their latest tour, which pulls into the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on April 9, they've taken to covering classic songs and the results have been pretty much as expected for a band of this, ahem, caliber. So here and now, I would like to respectfully request that Arcade Fire please, please, please stop covering songs I love.
The first one I heard was their take on INXS's "Devil Inside." Now, anyone who has heard the original knows that this song requires a certain level of sultry seductiveness. It's a song that more or less represents INXS's look at the coke-and-hookers scene of the '80s. It was a rock song by some standards, but with a swagger clearly co-opted from classic soul.
On their version, Arcade Fire ditches the swagger to just beat the holy hell out of the song for some reason. Apparently they felt that the song didn't hit hard enough, so their drummer decided to speed up the tempo and hit his drums like he was playing a Metallica song.
Little did I know this would set the standard for their future covers, and that they would become increasingly more ludicrously unfit for this treatment.
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The next one I heard was Prince's "Controversy." How well do you suppose that would turn out for any rock band, no matter how milquetoast? Surprise of surprises, they butchered it. Through the song's entirety, Arcade Fire takes the same full-steam approach they took to INXS, even though it makes even less sense to play Prince this way.
Worse still is singer Win Butler's insistence on performing the song in the style of Boris Karloff. Prince, already possessed of an unusually high voice, sang much of the original in falsetto. Seemingly uncomfortable with that, Butler approaches it with a macho recitation that is completely baffling.
They completely miss out on the funk swagger that drives the original; this cover sounds more like a bouncy arena anthem than a funk track straight out of Minneapolis. One thing you never, never, never do when approaching a Prince song is try to make it rock. Only Prince can make Prince songs rock.
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Arcade Fire's latest shoddy attempt at covering soul is taking on Boyz II Men's "Motownphilly." Even though I don't share the kind of personal affection for that song as I do for "Controversy" or "Devil Inside," I can still hear how egregious what they're doing to the song is.
How many attempts will it take before Arcade Fire realizes they have no swagger, no funk, no soul? Right now they're just unfortunately subjecting live audiences to these abominations, but it's only a matter of time before they get the idea that one of these things is good enough to record in a studio. On that day, we all will weep.
So please, Arcade Fire, just stop now. Quit while you're relatively ahead and stick to what you're already not very good at.
Arcade Fire plays Wednesday, April 9 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
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