Pop Screen: Arcade Fire

"Neighborhood #2 (Laika)"

Merge records

Why does the Arcade Fire insist on making such insipid music videos? The first offender was “Rebellion (Lies).” Not an outright failure, but undeniably a clip starved for imagination. There was probably no budget, so you forgive them, even though the only thing in the whole video keeping your attention is the fuzzy glow between Richard Parry’s drum and his drumstick, and even that can’t get you through the unintentionally humorous blanket-shaking scene.

A few months later, “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”: basically a bunch of impish little kids cutting power lines around town, pissing off the adult-types. The animation is second-rate, mostly “Triplets of Belleville” cribbing drawn with the finesse of a “South Park” episode.

Now here comes the fugliest monstrosity of them all, “Neighborhood #2 (Laika).” Boy is this thing unbearable to look at. Just look at that screen shot. The video is that murky, unpleasant, and nonsensical, for three and a half minutes. As in “Power Out,” the animators repeat sequences several times to make up for their faltering creative facilities, subjecting us to police-disco-light-shuffling neighbors over and over.

I guess the major problem here isn’t simply that these videos are subpar in their own right, but that they really fail to do justice to a generation-defining album. Moreover, they seem to take it one step further, adhering to the song’s most literal interpretations and never straying far into the allegorical world that they inhabit.

In “Rebellion (Lies),” you get an underlining of the song’s lyrics (“sleeping is giving in,” cue sleeping girl), an exercise in absurdly facile representation. And isn’t “Power Out” supposed to be a bleak tale of generational alienation, disguised as a propelled anthem? Why, then, do the little kids in the video take such unabashed glee in isolating themselves from their parents? It seems the directors shamefully saw the lyrics as two-dimensionally as their artwork.

“Laika” is not quite as insulting to its source material, and at times its grotesqueries (most notably the skull/sperm-headed mother of young Alexander) suit the psychological torture in the protagonist’s unstable mind. But the whole collection leaves you with a burning question: why can’t a band with evident aesthetic refinement (see their website or any of their album artwork) put out a music video that’s at the very least watchable?

Staff Writer Ben B. Chung can be reached at bchung@fas.harvard.edu