Published on August 1st, 2017 | by Jeff Thiessen0
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Has Arcade Fire become the very thing they sought to lampoon? Jeffrey, exhausted by their bullshit, takes a look at their fifth album, ‘Everything Now.’
It doesn’t feel that long ago when Arcade Fire existed as a pretty little venue for Butler and Co.’s musings on mortality and rebirth, a compact ten-track offering with their seminal 2004 ‘Funeral’ release. That record really did seem to politely step into our lives in all the right ways. It was sort of spiritual, but never attempting to reconfigure sin and salvation into some annoying contemporary, post-modern reconciliation. There wasn’t dueling French morality we would come to be exceedingly familiar with by the time ‘Reflektor’ dropped its bloated, stinking carcass onto our doorstep. Instead, ‘Funeral’ was an album that mainly focused on the connections between people, and the fragility of all things we seem to consider fundamentally secure and unbreakable. In short, this was a record to inhabit, and man was it mobile. You couldn’t really trace the sound of it to anything in years past, and the hallowed grande scope of those songs ensured they would sound positively huge played live.
But, popularity has its downsides, and it’s difficult to recall a recent example of it having a similarly brutal effect for any act, as it did on Arcade Fire the past five years or so. Maybe Father John Misty. And honestly all praise aside, they were never iconoclastic enough to be truly relevant. Societal critiques were circled, perhaps gently alluded to, but Arcade Fire always hedged their bets, knew exactly where the exits were set up. I don’t want to play armchair quarterback here, but without fusing some dissonant aspects into Arcade Fire’s music, a hint of ugliness and willingness to get their hands a bit dirty, the potential of self-parody was always threat level midnight, and always a concern for me, and should’ve been for anybody following the band.
And to be fair, while we may be flirting with that unfortunate development here with ‘Everything Now,’ they did stave it off pretty brilliantly with the underrated ‘Neon Bible,’ and again with the Grammy-award winning ‘The Suburbs.’ Unfortunately for everyone involved, they started invoking dress codes for shows following the release of ‘Reflektor’ (and again recently, they just can’t help themselves), pompously reviewing their own stuff, and basically let their aesthetic methodology become a punchline that transcended itself. I tried not to be weary going into ‘Everything Now,’ but this band does not make it easy at all. Truth be told, I’m exhausted by their bullshit.
The good news here is the indulgent and excessive approach of ‘Reflektor’ is mostly gone here, this is a compact offering. The precarious line they grossly flirted with on that album, between sublime (‘Porno’) and ridiculous (the first three tracks on the second disc, to name a few) seems to be basically vaporized. Of course that means something has to take the place of the schizo-eclecticism we saw in such dizzying extremes on ‘Reflektor,’ and it seems to be a plangent, joyless march toward the baroque end of the prog-rock spectrum as we have come to know it today.
The title track starts out promisingly enough, and repeated listens reveal it to be hovering close to their strongest material, missing that tier by a narrow margin. The chorus starts a pattern we will see throughout ‘Everything Now,’ and that’s having pseudo-ironic peptalk refrains we have to attempt to absorb on sincere levels if we have any hope of enjoying this record., even if it’s not that realistic. It works on the title-cut, and we don’t have to worry about what to take to heart, and what to just take as textual grounding. Honestly, it just succeeds because it harkens back to ‘Funeral’ sonic frameworks: warm, driving rhythm punctuated by bigger ideas channeled into a proper, larger than French life exit.
Unfortunately it’s followed by one of the worst, and paradoxically most interesting track on the album, ‘Signs of Life.’ Arcade Fire has constantly exemplified shockingly low levels of self-awareness, but this hints that everything may have come full circle, and they’re getting to be in on the joke. It doesn’t matter all that much, even as they hum along, “looking for signs of life/looking for signs every night/but there’s no life/so we do it again,” the song is a wildly aimless electro mess that unravels almost the second it kicks into second gear. There could be some mildly worthwhile self-analysis here I suppose, or it could be some bullshit take on how they’re an arty band, in an artless world or something. Either way, it’s much more fun to mock than to actually listen to.
‘Creature Comfort’ is next and hints at the purposeful synth-movement the wonderful ‘I Gave You Power’ single took us in, then takes us into a place far removed from suburban existential angst we saw on ‘The Suburbs,’ and into a place where they are almost openly questioning their own motives. I’m not sure how we are supposed to react to something like this, but I do know the relatively simplified historical arc of Arcade Fire takes an ugly, and frankly stupid turn with those sorts of examinations, sardonic or not.
The middle portion of ‘Everything Now’ could accurately be described as wretched, for anybody with any contextual familiarity with their previous work. To classify it as lost would be an insult to that abomination of a television show. At the risk of sounding hyperbolically negative, a couple of these ones will forever be discussed as among the worst songs the band has ever committed to record. I’m not sure what possessed Arcade Fire and Alt-J to put their stamp on songs like ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Hit Me Like that Snare’ (respectively), but if these groups are considered two of the flagship acts we have with North American independent alternative music, it might be time to dust off some of those old Talking Heads albums you’ve been meaning to give another chance. That’s how bad these songs are.
Of course in their infinite quest to perpetually piss us off, they couldn’t just give us a flat out horrifically bad album like Alt-J did. That would be too easy. Instead, they decided to close out ‘Everything Now’ with three of the most impressive tunes on the album. ‘Put Your Money On Me’ is an extremely clever bait and switch that does flutter into the same sort of problem ‘I Gave You Power’ succumbed to (not really knowing how to end a genuinely powerful and sincere song properly), but it still for the most part, finds its mark.
‘We Don’t Deserve Your Love’ left me uneasy, mostly because it presented us with an unexpected shift to the corporeal. This was an openly jaded, quite annoying album but here the skepticism can at least be attached to a tangible train of thought, a link to the real world, as Arcade Fire (artificially) sees it anyways. Perhaps it can be evaluated as the only example on ‘Everything Now,’ where they write something within the framework of reality as can be expected to be interpreted it in 2017 and don’t run out of ideas before the end of the song.
I liked the closing track ‘Everything Now (continued)’ a lot. It’s simple, builds properly, efficiently, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. As a merciful reprieve, it takes us to a sad place, but doesn’t expect us to find some arcane urban sprawl crisis message within its pleasant parameters, nor does it hastily usher us on to the next place when we can’t be expected to find meaning in the words in the sand, like most of ‘Everything Now.’ Of course because they’re Arcade fucking Fire, they named the closing song the same as the opening song.
There are no delirious head-rush tracks on here like ‘Wake Up,’ ‘Keep the Car Running,’ or even the semi-eyerolling ‘The Sprawl II.’ ‘Everything Now’ never finds its footing (not sure it even wants to), and truly exists in the piteous chasm between genuine erudite sorrow and the “we are surrounded by people, yet more alone than ever” sentiment that inevitably amounts to nothing. We can all probably agree on this confused assessment, but Arcade Fire continues to stand on the other side, trying to wave us over with a smirk and a scarf. It’s possible the smirk is genuine, but every joke has a pointed edge, and if they are out to prove anything on ‘Everything Now,’ it’s like Tricky said: hell is round.