by Ryan Fine
In the now-ancient year of 2004, Arcade Fire released their undisputed masterpiece Funeral, the debut album that arguably reignited the importance of indie pop music for the new millennium. Made popular by its brilliant slow-burning melodies, poetic storytelling, and of course the wordless inspirational chorus of “Wake Up”, countless popular bands like Wolf Parade, Of Monsters and Men, Fun, Vampire Weekend, and Florence + the Machine may never have reached their current levels of success without the influence of this album.
For a band that started out with such a celebrated release, it would be nearly impossible for them to keep the same standard for their entire career. But despite never making another Funeral, Arcade Fire’s next three albums were all unique and wonderful in their own right, and that fact alone heightens the disappointment of the band’s unremarkable new album Everything Now. Fully embracing the disco influence that their previous album Reflektor had hinted at, Everything Now has some moments worthy of the Arcade Fire discography. But sadly the album does not stop there, and many of the other tracks range from forgettable to just plain bad.
Poe’s Law in action
The press rollout for Everything Now has easily been one of the most bizarre spectacles to watch in the music world this year. From the creation of a fake Billboard article claiming that the band was suing for the rights to the “Millennial whoop” to an ad which hilariously spins quotes from an insulting Stereogum article to make them look like compliments, it was often difficult to discern Arcade Fire’s true message from their trollish social commentary.
This entertaining advertisement tactic began around the same time that Arcade Fire unveiled the first single from this album, the titular ABBA-esque jam “Everything Now”. This isn’t a terrible song, but it comes packed with a little bit of irony. For a band that suddenly seems to be so concerned with pointing out the absurdity of commercialism in the music industry, this sure does sound like the most radio-ready song they’ve ever released. From the catchy piano hook all the way down to the “na na na” bridge, it truly contains just about every pop music trope imaginable.
Going in a more pop-oriented direction isn’t inherently a problem, but instead of owning up to it, they seem to be trying to convince their audience that it’s part of the joke. This is the only way I can justify “Chemistry”, the first true dud of Arcade Fire’s career. The band who once put colorful poetry to music in songs like “Crown of Love” and “In the Backseat” is now writing inexcusable lines like “You and me, we got chemistry / Baby you and me”. This is not even to mention the odd polka groove at the beginning of the song, which is entirely out of place and drags the entire thing from just okay down to trainwreck status.
Even if these abhorrent lyrical efforts are in fact “part of the joke”, that doesn’t actually make them any better. The band dabbled in parody on their previous album with “Normal Person”, which managed to effectively criticize “born in the wrong generation” rock music culture while also being a really fun rock song. So now that their aim is to satirize pop music, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to write great pop songs to support it.
Where songwriting and lyricism fail to bring the band’s intentions to the spotlight, the production ensures that at least it sounds good in the process. A handful of experienced producers were involved in crafting the sound of Everything Now, including members of Portishead, Pulp, and Daft Punk. Also lending a hand was Markus Dravs, who was behind the board for Arcade Fire’s Grammy Album of the Year-winning opus The Suburbs back in 2010.
This situation could easily have amounted to too many cooks in the kitchen, but as demonstrated by their famously huge membership roster (sometimes in the double digits of touring members), Arcade Fire has never really believed in that philosophy. As expected, each producer’s sound is apparent in different parts of Everything Now, but the album also sounds fluid and unified as a whole under its disco-dominated soundscape.
Disco music is certainly not foreign to Arcade Fire. On Reflektor they worked partially with James Murphy (ringleader of LCD Soundsystem and master of indie disco) for percussion and production, and they had been writing songs like “Sprawl II” since before even then. But all of the singles from Everything Now are reminiscent of the genre to an extent never before heard from this band. It is as apparent in highlights like “Signs of Life” and “Electric Blue” as it is in the lesser songs on the tracklist. It’s definitely a far cry from Neon Bible, but a decade has passed since then, and there are some spots on this album where they really do their new sound justice.
Diamonds in the rough
If there is hope for the future of Arcade Fire, it is certainly not to be found anywhere between the fifth and eighth tracks of this album. After the sunny pop banger “Creature Comfort” comes “Peter Pan”, which is probably the least noteworthy song on the record. It’s not great, it’s not terrible; it’s just kind of a watered-down version of “Flashbulb Eyes” (which was by no means a highlight of Reflektor). This is followed by the appalling trash fire that is “Chemistry”, which is trailed by the two halves of “Infinite Content”.
This song, which is for some reason split into two tracks, does not save the flow of the album in any way. It begins as a monotonous pseudo-punk song, then abruptly transforms into a confusing, bluegrass-inspired mess between tracks. The band was bold enough to name their worldwide tour for this album the Infinite Content Tour, but if this was supposed to be one of the better tracks, it really is difficult to tell what the band was going for.
Thankfully, the bookends of this album save it from being a complete disaster. That’s not to take into account the unnecessary reprise tracks of “Everything Now”, but rather the bouncy, fun tracks near the beginning and the more sophisticated cuts near the end. “Signs of Life” is the best-structured pure disco song on the record, building intensity through simple lyricism and Murphy-esque repetition. “Electric Blue”, the only song to feature Régine Chassagne on vocals, mixes softer disco influence with something a bit more foggy and nostalgic, and in its strange atmosphere it ends up being a clear gem of the record.
The album ends on a strong streak with the darker tunes “Put Your Money on Me” and “We Don’t Deserve Love”. The former falls somewhere between Eurythmics and New Order in mood, trudging along in murkiness but gradually clearing away the mud as the song builds. The latter is quieter and more rhythm-driven, pointing slightly back in the direction of The Suburbs without sacrificing the dance vibes of the previous eleven tracks. With tracks like these scattered throughout Everything Now, it’s clear that Butler and Chassagne are still capable of teaming up to make great music, so while disappointing, this album does not eradicate all cautious optimism. With any luck, it’ll all get better from here.
“Put Your Money on Me”
“We Don’t Deserve Love”
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With ‘Everything Now’, Arcade Fire has broken a decade-long streak of great records. They have lost the lyrical power that originally boosted them to the forefront of the indie universe, and “Chemistry” is by far the worst song that has ever made it to one of their albums. Though this new album is not without its strong moments, the majority of it is average at best, and its mediocre pop incorporation reveals that the anti-commercialism promotional campaign was completely devoid of self-awareness. With little on this record to write home about, the only thing Arcade Fire fans can do right now is sit tight and hope the next one is better.