Arcade Fire’s last album, the double effort Reflecktor, saw the band set up shop in the electro-dance realm with the help of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. The end result wasn’t always successful, and it certainly had its detractors, but still largely constituted a worthwhile entry in the Montreal indie rockers’ canon. With their fifth studio album, Everything Now, they have returned to that same shop with grandiose ideas of expansion and little renovation. The end result is plenty of half-baked ideas that rarely coalesce into anything of purpose.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, the band published their own review of their album. They said that “It will probably be compared unfavourably to Funeral and The Suburbs, while (also being called) a bounceback after Reflecktor.” Instead, Reflecktor feels more like a harbinger, as one begins to realise their disarmingly meta observation pervades over the entirety of Everything Now. The album’s themes tread in the vacuity of the modern age, yet the majority of the lyrics are themselves p, eschewing real meaning for that same blandly meta attitude or a ‘quote-unquote’ clever turn of phrase. See: the pairing of songs ‘Infinite Content’ and ‘Infinite_Content’.
The brightest spot on the album instrumentally is also its point of no return from a lyrical standpoint. Up until then, it seemed like the band had gained control of their impulses, and delivered music worth dancing to. This track, ‘Creature Comfort’ has the throbbing synths and passionate guitar riffs that trademark the orchestral feel of a great Arcade Fire song. Then the lyrics bulldoze that feeling into the mud with their take on a depressed youth that is inoffensively surface level until this Great Offender: “She dreams about dying all the time/ She told me she came so close/ Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record”. Arcade Fire has always had a propensity for self-seriousness, but here it tips over into a parody, and manages to take away from the genuinely serious subject matter. This verse is also explored in the entirety of ‘Good God Damn’, at which point they’ve fallen off the cliff.
This time around they’re assisted by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, Pulp’s Steve Mackey and Geoff Barrow of Portishead. They allow Arcade Fire to indulge in the baroque dance that they aspired to on the previous record, but like their lyrics, the production here is prone to self-parody. Case in point is the track ‘Everything Blue’, whose refrain is backed by a synth akin to the sound of a mangled animal, in turn infecting the normally fantastic Régine Chassagne with its inanity.
The final track ‘Everything Now (Continued)’ possesses an impressive string section that is added on to the opening track’s instrumentation. It’s a nice bit of verve from the band, until their self-seriousness gets the better of them. The end of the song loops back into the beginning, the latter of which was a strangely experimental interlude that seems to now only exist so it can be looped back into. One can imagine Win Butler smirking from high above, impressed with his trickery.
In the end, Arcade Fire’s legendary status in the indie world remains intact. It’s a great shame that Everything Now puts them at a crossroads. This once-great band could still be a future-great, if they can only rein in their impulses and recapture their authenticity, and hey, if we can dance to it, that’s fine too.
Released July 28th via Sonovox and Columbia Records.