The Arcade Fire Albums Ranked
I remember seeing Arcade Fire on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (1975-present) in 2013, for what I now realize was part of the press tour for their fourth album REFLEKTOR, and thinking I greatly disliked the Canadian art/indie/alt rock band. In fact, I got into a whole “argument” with my high school Spanish teacher about it. But over time, and after some more open-minded dips into the discography of the millennial darlings, I’ve come away with a much greater appreciation for Arcade Fire. I wouldn’t say that their work has deeply resonated with me the way it has for others, spanning seven albums (I’ll explain why there’s one more than the “canonical” six in short order) from the 18 years from 2004 to the present so far. I now actively enjoy a number of songs and albums from the group, though, as I explain in the writing below.
Note: Arcade Fire has put out a few EPs in addition to their full-fledged album releases, but for greater appreciation for their whole discography I especially listened to ARCADE FIRE (2003), although it isn’t ranked here.
#7 — HER (ORIGINAL SCORE) 
Favorite track: “Some Other Place”
So here is the work that is typically not included in the “canon” six Arcade Fire albums: the band’s soundtrack collaboration with Owen Pallett for Spike Jonze’s 2013 film HER. But somehow, the score had not been released officially until eight years later, in 2021. HER (ORIGINAL SCORE), although of course its origin is from much earlier, came after the biggest gap between (official releases of) full-fledged album-length experiences for the band, nearly four years after EVERYTHING NOW. The wait for such an official release obviously did not yield the greatest thing Arcade Fire has ever done in my opinion, but that’s not really shorting their music for HER. It’s ambient and entirely instrumental, traits that don’t necessarily rule out my enjoyment but definitely present a barrier in dialing in for me. HER is full of beautiful sounds, but for intentional listening, it definitely comes in at the bottom of Arcade Fire album choices for me.
#6 — NEON BIBLE (2007)
Favorite track: “No Cars Go”
Well, I do think NEON BIBLE was technically a sophomore slump, but as we’ll see, it’s not like it fell down from incredible heights in my opinion. That being said, Arcade Fire’s second album is still greatly enjoyable. The band enlivened the angsty twee energy of FUNERAL with a synth-y-er sound and more electronic production style. The evolution of their sound can be best heard on “No Cars Go,” which was actually reworked from the track that appeared on their 2003 self-titled EP. It’s a great song, and any Arcade Fire track that emphasizes Régine Chassagne’s voice over or in addition to Win Butler’s is a win for me. They may be married and Butler may be the lead vocalist, but Chassagne undoubtedly has the better voice. In any event, my detraction from NEON BIBLE is kind of vague. There’s something about the record that settles into a malaise, a problem I actually also have with its predecessor. NEON BIBLE trades in an “eccentric” musical approach and songwriting structure that nevertheless doesn’t electrify as probably intended; it’s certainly not a bad album, but I think the more eclectic Arcade Fire got, the better.
#5 — WE (2022)
Favorite track: “End of the Empire I-III”
That being said, Arcade Fire’s latest album at the time of this writing, WE, doesn’t totally succeed because of its eclectic nature. The band has been on a poppier streak for the better part of a decade, but their attention to more accessible hooks and choruses have mostly been supported by a richness that prevents things from falling too much into cheesy or rote territory. That’s not always the case on WE, which at times blares with a bubblegum wail that can certainly rankle. That being said, Arcade Fire hasn’t suddenly become some bland U2-ish arena pop rock band like so many bands of their era. WE doesn’t always deepen the contemporary approach to what was once deemed “alternative rock,” but when it does, as in the David Bowie emulation in the middle of “End of the Empire I-III,” it really satisfies.
#4 — FUNERAL (2004)
Favorite track: “Rebellion (Lies)”
So this might be the blasphemy for some Arcade Fire fans, I don’t know. But I just really don’t understand the true infatuation with FUNERAL, the band’s debut album. I understand its place in the development of an early-to-mid 2000s approach to alternative rock, one that was certainly inspired by the likes of a Neutral Milk Hotel. And really, I do like the record. But it is not best-of-the-decade territory, and indeed, nothing Arcade Fire has yet put out enters that kind of conversation. And yet, let me vacillate one more time: FUNERAL is compelling in its own way. I think there are some really clever songwriting quirks on the album that support a weird new take on the alt rock of the previous decade, fused with a knowing ear for the poppy and catchy. It’s best heard on “Rebellion (Lies)” as I see it, but it’s there on the entirety of the album. But that whole of FUNERAL ultimately leaves me wanting a bit more, a more extreme break out from an angsty malaise.
#3 — REFLEKTOR (2013)
Favorite track: “Afterlife”
REFLEKTOR, for good and bad, really did break out from what Arcade Fire had been doing for their first three albums. This is the origin point of the decade or so infatuation with more dance-y themes and electronic sounds and it mostly works. Ironically, considering one of its songs as performed on SNL inspired my most potent dislike for the group, my revisit of REFLEKTOR ended up making it one of my favorite Arcade Fire records. Its epic scope weaves in and out of so many sonic inspirations that the album can at times feel messy or unfocused. But coming away from the full experience, I found I was pretty moved and impressed by its emotional weight as well as its commitment to upbeat music. REFLEKTOR could very well have entered that malaise I love to mention, with its extended run time both in terms of the whole album product but also each individual song, but instead it serves up an atmosphere that is lovely to sink into.
#2 — EVERYTHING NOW (2017)
Favorite track: “Creature Comfort”
Honestly, I kind of can’t believe that EVERYTHING NOW is my second favorite Arcade Fire album. However, I reflect on the rehabilitation I underwent, transferring my dislike of the band to general appreciation and enjoyment. And I find that EVERYTHING NOW, the first new record from the band to come out after I dove deeper, actually did appeal to me at the time. Listening to it today, I like it even more. Criticized in a way as Arcade Fire’s poppy sellout album, full of shiny, apparently shallow production and inane hit-chasing choruses, EVERYTHING NOW succeeds precisely for all the reasons many dislike it. The record is the band’s most accessible, providing quick hit satisfaction. If it isn’t totally accessible, it’s because Arcade Fire didn’t suddenly dumb down its musical approach. There are some bizarro sounds woven into their pop ballads and generally upbeat tone. I especially love “Creature Comfort” for how it whips Chassagne’s voice in and out of the chorus, and indeed, she has never sounded better than on this album. EVERYTHING NOW is a record of conflicts, of artsy alt approaches to mainstream saleable sounds, and that’s why I like it as much as I do.
#1 — THE SUBURBS (2010)
Favorite track: “Rococo”
Arcade Fire is a band of conflicts, actually. As much attention has been paid to their eccentricities and artsy alt-y approach to music (perhaps even a pretentious one), they have always been conscious of the down-and-dirty appeal of a good chorus. THE SUBURBS is the perfect encapsulation of this dynamic. The band’s third album is their best, an enveloping piece of music that successfully captures the sublime nature of the suburbs (both good and bad). Something about the album taps into a childlike feeling of bliss and naive angst, flowing with symphonic arrangements and pounding with a driving rock instinct. “Rococo” is the best example of this, but it can be heard on both “Half Light” tracks, “We Used to Wait,” and indeed, the whole record. My appreciation for Arcade Fire is perhaps too cerebral, not instinctual enough as it is with my favorite music, but listening to THE SUBURBS taps into an emotional wavelength unlike anything else the band has put out so far.