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Arcade Fire’s Everything Now Aims to Comment on Everything—And Fails

 

Before I begin this review, a spoiler alert: Arcade Fire’s new album Everything Now is disappointing for a plethora of reasons.

My main issue with Everything Now—as a fan of the band and as a music reviewer—is that Arcade Fire is trying to do something with this album, but what they are trying to do is unclear in both the music and its message. Is Everything Now a commentary on The Internet and its downsides? Is it a middle finger of sorts to the hype that a new Arcade Fire album is guaranteed to generate? Is it just Win, Regine, and company fucking around? I suspect that it could be all of these at the same time, or none of them. As a longtime Arcade Fire fan, this album made me react in an extremely visceral way—but if that sounds like a positive, it is not. Everything Now is not a good Arcade Fire album. There are bits and pieces of this album that are inventive and interesting, but these bits ultimately do not add up to a good Arcade Fire album.

Everything Now, despite its title, lacks many of the distinguishing features that made Arcade Fire’s four previous albums so beloved by fans and critics. Unlike the orchestral affectations and sincerity of Funeral, the claustrophobic experimentalism of Neon Bible, the nostalgic pop of The Suburbs, and the expansiveness of Reflektor, Everything Now sounds like Arcade Fire’s attempt to cross over to adult contemporary while retaining their fan base. Such a crossover can be done successfully (just ask Regina Spektor), but Everything Now is not that crossover.

The album opens with the trip-hoppy “Everything_Now (Continued),” a 46-second, synth-heavy track that finds Butler wondering if he’ll “make it home again”; this is followed by the actual song entitled “Everything Now,” which is a floofy, ABBA-esque confection that made me desperately want to listen to ABBA instead, because at least ABBA had a consistent style and worked with it, instead of doing the musical equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall to see if it sticks. After the disco-influenced weirdness of Arcade Fire’s 2013 album Reflektor—I should note here that the title track to that album is one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs—I was hoping that the band would follow that thread a little more and release a fully-fledged disco album.

This did not happen. There are traces of disco’s excess on Everything Now; “Signs of Life” has an almost-great beat, and a fantastic horn section near its end, but it also contains an unfortunate bit where singer and lyricist Win Butler sing-talks the days of the week; there’s also a snide reference to “Those cool kids / stuck in the past” during the song’s opening. For a band that has prided itself on being the voice of disaffected “kids” since its inception—starting with Butler’s iconic wail of “BECAUSE NOTHING’S HID / FROM US KIDS” on 2004’s “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”—this turn into sarcasm seems to come out of nowhere. Is this lyric a brush-off to AF’s fans who are still “stuck in the past” of the band’s back catalog? If so, message received.

I wanted to give this album a chance, so I ignored my initial misgivings regarding the opening track and “Signs of Life,” and kept listening, which proved to be a mistake. There’s a glib reference to assisted suicide on “Creature Comfort,” which is both disturbing and out of place (particularly because assisted suicide is an issue that has real-life implications for people with disabilities) in an Arcade Fire song. The utterly confounding “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry” fall flat—and not just because the lyrics to both songs are riddled with clichés. Even the Nick Cave-esque “Good God Damn” is repetitive enough that one listen will probably be sufficient. The intense synth flourishes and lovely backing vocals of “Put Your Money on Me” are not enough to save an otherwise hackneyed song.

Everything Now-era Arcade Fire may want to comment on everything, but their earnest commentary this time around is missing much of what made their previous albums great, and replaces it with synths and tissue paper-thin “commentary” on the internet age. I’m sure that there are people who will enjoy this album. I’m not one of them.

Photo: Rama/Creative Commons

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Anna Hamilton

Anna Hamilton is a writer, cartoonist, and gadfly residing in the Bay Area.