Arcade Fire’s EVERYTHING NOW: A Lesson In Trying To Ignore Antics And Just Dance
Arcade Fire is the type of band that, even if you’ve never heard any of their music, you’ve at least heard of them.
The French-Canadian group burst on the scene with 2004’s Funeral, which quickly cemented their authenticity overnight as the indie band to watch. Led by multi-instrumentalist Win Butler, his wife Régine Chassagne, younger brother Will Butler, and a slew of anywhere from three to six additional musicians, Arcade Fire has become known by various complimentary and disparaging labels: pretentious, Coachella fodder, grandiose, hipster, bombastic, annoying, genre-defying. They’ve done everything from rent out a church to record an album, become shareholders of Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal, to air a 30-minute long music video immediately after an episode of SNL that featured some of the cast, and win the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year for their third record, The Suburbs.
Now, on July 28th, they’ve released their fifth album (and first in four years) Everything Now, which, like many of Arcade Fire’s previous releases, has been bogged down by a contentious marketing campaign, satirical statements, and – for lack of a better word – antics. Ahead of their live performances, the band requested that no fan attend their shows wearing sandals, shorts, crop tops, or other “hipster” apparel – a “requirement” that echoes the 2013 Reflektor tour that seemingly required “formal dress or costume” at every show. In a pretty clear satirical act that’s been lost on many, they began selling Arcade Fire-themed fidget spinners and “Everything Now”-themed shirts mocking the recent Kylie and Kendall Jenner t-shirt controversy, representing everything bad with internet culture and social commentary.
So, why is any of this relevant to Everything Now? Because everyone – include Arcade Fire – has made it relevant. Somehow, the marketing campaigns, statements, and antics surrounding the release of an album in 2017 are just as relevant as the music on it, whether we like it or not. The band’s attempt at a viral campaign led by the fictional capitalist juggernaut “Everything Now” is part of the album’s narrative; satirically critiquing modernity’s reliance on capitalism to constantly generate infinite content for users’ consumption.
More importantly, though, is that while EN meddles with complex issues, it sonically attempts to remain light – a fact no doubt relevant in light of co-producers Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk and Steve Mackey of Pulp. Starting off strong, the eponymous lead single of the record’s same name is a straight up disco dance track that is so incredibly fun you can’t help but turn up the volume and let it wash over you. ABBA-inspired, Bee Gees’-inspired, and packed with singalong verses, “Everything Now,” “Signs of Life,” and “Peter Pan” are youthful, danceable romps rye with funky basslines, memorable choruses, and earnest horns and brass.
Following those, “Creature Comfort” is not only the best track on the album but one the greatest songs Arcade Fire has released in their career. Heart-pumping synths and rhythms reveal a Daft Punk touch while possessing an unending desire to sing and clap along; a feeling most reminiscent of Funeral’s classic hit “Wake Up.” The chorus of “God, make me famous / If you can’t, just make it painless / On and on, I don’t know what I want / […] Creature comfort, make it painless” perfectly captures the need in the modern era to be relevant, popular, and praised – whether through social media likes or other validation. Unfortunately, not too long after “Creature Comfort,” the album loses steam in attempt to carry on with its heavy narrative.
A pair of songs sitting in the album’s middle, “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content,” represent the strange sonic dichotomy of EN: the first track is nothing but mindless repetition of its title in a clear attempt to Make A Point while the second track’s key, melody, and tempo immediately evoke the group’s early work like 2007’s Neon Bible. Both songs feature almost identical lyrics and highlight the difference between “infinite content” and feeling “infinitely content,” but only one song is remotely serviceable.
Pushing the envelope further, “Electric Blue” and “Chemistry” might be the two most divisive songs on the album. “Chemistry” is immediately contentious, sounding like backing for a cheesey, high-wire circus act and ending with even cheesier jamming power chords. “Electric Blue” starts off with a solid, dancey backbeat and infectious melody, but then Régine’s vocals kick in. In a bizarre move, she sings the entire track exclusively in falsetto, which oscillates between sounding sweetly harmonious and downright unlistenable. Somehow, the record manages to pick up towards its end, albeit briefly. “Put Your Money On Me” has synth and bass plucks oddly reminiscent of the Stranger Things theme while “Good God Damn” has soulful bass and moody lyrics that on any other album would be a solid statement piece; but here, it becomes the bluesy, understated track forgotten in light of the bad songs that proceed it.
Despite a solid and memorable start, Everything Now never fully recovers from its baffling middle collection of missteps. Like its online marketing campaign, the content of EN incidentally represents the content of the internet itself. When it’s bad, it’s startlingly bad; when it’s good, it’s overwhelmingly great. Let this be a lesson to both the band and audience alike: perhaps we all need to look past the antics, avoid getting bogged down in our own narrative, and just dance.
–Written by Kat Manos