Brow Beat

This Takedown of Arcade Fire Is Criticism of the Best Kind

Regine Chassagne, Marika Anthony-Shaw and Win Butler of Arcade Fire

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images For J/P Haitian Relief Organization and Cinema For Peace

Many music writers and Arcade Fire fans are hopping mad about Chris Richards’ rant of a Reflektor review in today’s Washington Post. “Look, I’m sure they’re very nice people,” Richards writes, but “Arcade Fire still sound like gigantic dorks with boring sex lives.” And it gets meaner from there! Richards calls their music “mysteriously devoid of wit, subtlety, and danger.” He says Win Butler is “still as dreadful a lyricist as ever.” And he wraps up with this flurry of a final paragraph:

It’s something conservative pretending to be something bold. It’s Sandra Bullock’s hack dialogue in Gravity. It’s square, sexless, deeply unstylish, painfully obvious rock music. It’s an album with a song called “Porno” that you could play for your parents. It’s fraud.

Jody Rosen, New York’s pop critic (and formerly Slate’s), took to Twitter this morning in response:

And Eric Harvey of Pitchfork wrote that “saying a band has ‘boring sex lives’ is one step away from calling them ugly or giving them a swirlie in the gym bathroom.”  

But in fact you don’t have to be an Arcade Fire hater to think this review is great! Its very over-the-topness is what makes it so outstanding. There comes a time in every critic’s career when he or she can no longer take it, and must shout the Truth from the mountaintops. Chris Richards—a thoughtful, interesting, well-spoken critic and reporter—has reached that point with Arcade Fire. If you truly think a band is conservative and boring and lame, you can only take so many 9.2s before you lose it. And Richards lost it.

If the review was nothing but delicious haterade, I’d still be totally behind it. (Haterade is delicious when imbibed occasionally.) But it’s not! Amid the shouting, Richards makes very clear his issues not just with the band but with this particular album. He states a specific interpretation of the band’s aesthetic and disagrees vehemently that that is what pop music ought to be for. He has an opinion of the purposes and duties of rock and roll, and he thinks that Arcade Fire doesn’t live up to them. You may disagree with his review, but someone making a passionate argument about a record—and doing it loudly and very entertainingly—is not “trolling” or writing “clickbait.” It’s criticism, and the best kind.