The best band in the world?

Just two albums into their career, the members of Arcade Fire are being compared to the legends of rock. Do they deserve it?

Published March 15, 2007 5:47PM (EDT)

Well, that was quick. With only two, admittedly great, albums under their belts, Montreal's Arcade Fire are already generating discussion about whether they're the greatest band in the world. Such high praise might have rung hollow after their 2004 debut, ">Springsteen, U2 and Radiohead as holders of the "greatest band in the world" title. But given their brief career, why is everyone so excited about the Arcade Fire?

In a piece posted yesterday, music critic Jody Rosen makes a couple of great points about the band's success, chief among them being that in a bigger-is-better era for rock music, Arcade Fire does Springsteen-style bombast better than anybody else. Hell, Rosen's description of Arcade Fire's music as "a very, very big noise: gargantuan rock symphonies full of lashing guitar lines, swooping counterpoint from strings and horns, and voices raised in wordless chorales and shouts of 'Hey!'" could just as easily be used to describe "Born to Run" as "Neon Bible." Rosen also makes the point that Arcade Fire's tense, foreboding, sound and grim lyrics are well-suited to a country at war. Now, I'm not convinced that topicality is necessary for achieving rock superstardom -- the Rolling Stones did pretty well for themselves without seeming overly interested in the world outside the hotel -- but Rosen's point about the music is well-taken. A band makes it easy for its audience to deem it heroic if it makes a heroic sound. Springsteen, the Clash and U2 did that, and now so does Arcade Fire. But the thing that differs the most about Arcade Fire's ascent is its speed. Springsteen's first two albums stiffed and he was already in his mid-30s when "Born in the USA" turned him into an icon. Likewise, U2 and Radiohead were both well into their careers before they started garnering greatest-band-in-the-world talk with "Joshua Tree" and "OK Computer," respectively.

Seeing as how we're knee deep in a fallow period for mainstream rock music, with faceless and bland bands like Nickelback and Hinder pulling in big sales but little critical respect, I wonder if people aren't so hungry for the arrival of a rock icon we can all agree is actually good that we aren't crowning Arcade Fire a little too quickly. The band is good, but are the Springsteen and U2 comparisons premature? Isn't it too soon to start carving Arcade Fire onto Mt. Rockmore? Is there anyone out there that more richly deserves the accolades the band is getting? As always, post your answers in the comments section.

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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