I once had a conversation with the members of Arcade Fire where it was brought up how rock lyrics sometimes sounded like someone speaking in tongues; I even think I’m the one who brought it up. “The Suburbs” had been released for several months at that point; in fact, it was the week before they would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year. I was however completely unaware that they had recorded a track called “Speaking in Tongues” with David Byrne of Talking Heads (“Speaking in Tongues” also being the name of a Talking Heads record). The track hadn’t made it onto “The Suburbs” but was released a few months ago as part of a deluxe version of the record. All of this obviously has nothing to do with the song’s content, but when I saw the name of the unreleased track a few months ago, I couldn’t help but appreciate the coincidence.
The song is a haunting number that’s been a great addition to their live set in the last few months. The opening line “Hypocrite reader, my double, my brother” echoes Baudelaire’s preface to “Les Fleurs du Mal”, where Baudelaire accuses his own readers of the same sins and hypocrisy he was criticized for: “Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” The song is ghostly and beautiful, and the mere fact that it was omitted from the record shows Arcade Fire’s dedication to making actual albums, rather than incoherent collections of songs, which are frankly way too frequent these days.
“It’s BOREDOM. Tears have glued its eyes together.
You know it well, my Reader. This obscene
beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine —
you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!”
Baudelaire “Flowers of Evil” 1857
Translation — Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963)