By Jamie McNamara
It’s hard to think of an album in recent memory that has garnered as much hatred before its release as Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. Granted, the post-ironic content skewering and self-aware media campaign hasn’t been particularly enjoyable, but the band has managed to enter a new level of internet infamy located above Father John Misty, but below Azealia Banks. While it may be en vogue to hate Arcade Fire’s unaltered pretension, it’s hard to hear any reason for such rage in the music alone.
With an oddly-indicative album cover that displays a billboard of a neon-hued, desert mountain range blocking the view of an actual mountain range, Everything Now is a perfectly competent indie-pop album that has been covered in a shroud of marketing cynicism and content nausea. Luckily, if you can manage to look past the billboards, you’ll find an album that demonstrates that, even at their worst, Arcade Fire are still capable of greatness.
Everything Now builds on Reflektor’s cold, synth-heavy sonic interiors, but opts to knock down the warehouse walls, revealing wide open landscapes of the American south. From New Orleans-style horn stomps (“Chemistry”), to gritty, chugging synth pop (“Creature Comfort” and “Electric Blue”), the band has managed to cover a wide range of contemporary pop sounds while still making them sound exactly like Arcade Fire. Everything Now is an album that sits alongside the anthemic bombast of The Suburbs, the gothic dread of Neon Bible, and the slinky dance punk disco of Reflektor.
Throughout its 45-minute runtime, Everything Now shows a band that has a remarkable sense of sonic identity, while simultaneously presenting themselves as completely out of touch with broader pop culture in 2017.
The result is an album that is often textbook Arcade Fire: Anthemic, slightly cloying, and ultimately a little heavy handed. Yet, where Everything Now feels different than the band’s earlier work is that when the band indulges its schmaltziest self, it pays off significantly less than it used to. Credit it to the quality of their past work that Everything Now feels like the least important album in the band’s discography, even when they seem to try and make it feel like the most.
That kind of self-reverence results in Win Butler indulging some of his most groan-inducing lyrical tendencies. On the twin tracks “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content,” Butler’s subtle-as-a-hammer message of internet content making everyone (content)ed (see what he did there?) and bored doesn’t add much to a discussion that has been going on since the start of Facebook.
Elsewhere, “Creature Comfort” is marred by awkward vocal cadences and ham-fisted self-mythology (Assisted suicide / she dreams of dying all the time / she told me she came so close / filled up the bathtub and put on our first record), but is saved by the fact that it’s flat out the best instrumental on the record. Credit that to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who co-produced the track alongside Pulp’s Steve Mackey (who worked as producer on much of the album). It’s an amazing instrumental that sounds like a chugging, electro pop “Keep the Car Running.”
It’s telling that instead of coming off as a grand treatise on internet culture and media saturation, the lyrics of Everything Now end up sounding like the mindless content the band presumably set out to critique in the first place.
Luckily, the album sounds a lot better than it reads. “Signs of Life” sounds like an Oingo Boingo classic produced by Soulwax. The latter comparison being especially apt for much of the album; a hodgepodge of chintz reworked through kaleidoscopic electronica. Blaring horns and the same disco-indebted drums that appeared all over Reflektor anchor the track in a way that conjures the image of Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman flashing a trademark deranged smile.
“Chemistry” starts with a King Tubby-esque reggae stomp before morphing into a Billy Squier guitar track akin to “The Stroke” at the chorus. It’s among the best tracks on the album, and instantly earns a place alongside “Month of May” as one of Arcade Fire’s most rock-centric moments.
The track also marks a shift in the album overall, the computer-centric gloss of the first half of the album fades away to reveal desert-folk landscapes complete with an Americana twang that is a refreshing look for the band.
Fortunately, for all its misgivings, Everything Now does deliver with one of the most flat-out affecting songs of Arcade Fire’s decade-plus career. Late-album stunner, “We Don’t Deserve Love” is a gorgeous, electro-twanging ballad that somehow combines a Roland CR-78 drum machine with an Owen Pallett string arrangement and lush, swelling pedal steel courtesy Daniel Lanois. It’s a bright spot on an album that has plenty of them, but still ends up feeling disappointing.
Arcade Fire, Everything Now, Record Review