Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Everything Now, the new album from Arcade Fire.
Ten years ago, Arcade Fire were on top of the world. The band was the name in indie rock, having just put out Neon Bible—an acceptable follow-up to a lauded debut in Funeral. However, Sasha Frere-Jones called out the Montreal group—and others in the white indie category—for completely ignoring attributes of African-American musical tradition in his thoughtful 2007 New Yorker essay, “A Paler Shade Of White.” “If there is a trace of soul, blues, reggae, or funk in Arcade Fire, it must be philosophical; it certainly isn’t audible,” he wrote, and perhaps coincidentally (but maybe not), the white indie rockers changed their sound two albums later.
In 2013, Arcade Fire quite literally transformed into a new band. Ahead of the release of their fourth LP, Reflektor, Win Butler & co. marketed themselves as “The Reflektors,” complete with a fake website, a fake album, a slew of secret shows and some pretty creepy papier-mâché masks. The record, produced by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, saw the white indie rockers dipping their toes into dance production. Critics either loved or hated the 75-minute melange of genres, with those opposed citing the album’s length, accessibility and lack of cohesiveness as its weakest points.
Fast forward nearly four years, and the white indie rockers have stepped up their groove game even more with Everything Now. Each track on the 47-minute-long album is something you can dance to, including the ballads. Now as a six piece, Arcade Fire toy with disco, reggae, funk and soul, and sonically they’ve taken a huge step forward in the dance scene (largely thanks to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter manning the soundboard, along with Pulp bassist Steve Mackey).
The album’s high points sparkle like a spinning disco ball. The lead single and title track is an ABBA earworm that’s as infectious as it is solid musicianship (and that pygmy flute solo by Afropop descendant Patrick Bebey only helps its case). “Creature Comfort” is a jarring, hypnotic ride through goth-electro soundscapes, as Butler’s speak-singing pays homage to their last producer, Mr. Murphy. “Electric Blue” showcases Régine Chassagne’s signature falsetto over twinkling keys, crunching percussion and sticky synths, calling back to The Suburbs’ strongest moment: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” “We Don’t Deserve Love” is a disorienting ballad lamenting the state of human relationships with lyrics like, “You don’t wanna talk, you don’t wanna touch / Don’t even wanna watch TV.”
These songs stand strong on their own, acting as Everything Now’s sonic pillars, but when the album falls, it falls hard. “Signs Of Life” plays out like the opening number of an off-Broadway show. Sirens and clapping roll into a ‘70s funk-inspired bass line, and at one point Butler raps the days of the week (yes, really). “Peter Pan” is a woozy reggae-tinged track with some of the worst lyrics Butler has ever written, that is, until the next track begins. “Chemistry” is on the lower echelon of Arcade Fire’s discography. Its attempts at reggae are soft at best, and for a song all about chemistry, it seems as though the band had none while recording this track.
For a band praised for its philosophical lyrics and insightful views on the human condition, this album falls short. Like with Reflektor, the sextet launched a well-plotted marketing plan to support Everything Now, which included the band being “employed” by a fake corporation called Everything Now Corp, fake news sites, fake commercials and even a fake album review. The content was made to be satirical, demonstrating the impact media and materialism have on Western culture; however, it seems as though the members of Arcade Fire are parodies of themselves in this album. Butler’s vocal delivery is disconnected and lacking emotion, and lyrics like “Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan / Come on baby, take my hand / We can walk if you don’t feel like flying / We can live, I don’t feel like dying” are head scratchers coming from a songwriter who’s such an intellectual, emotive lyricist.
Arcade Fire may have said it best themselves in their mock Stereoyum Premature Premature Evaluation of Everything Now, where they write: “What, exactly, will our Premature Evaluation look like? It’s a little too early to say definitively. It’s likely, though, that we’ll compare Everything Now unfavorably to both Funeral and The Suburbs, while calling it a bounce back after Reflektor.”
The fake review was meant to be an answer to Stereogum’s recent op-ed piece, “Remember When Arcade Fire Were Good?”, but the sentiment is pretty spot on, even if meant to be satirical. Where Reflektor had a hard time finding its footing in the realm of dance music, the band has found its groove on Everything Now. It’s a step in the right direction for a group adamant on reinventing itself, but it’s not quite there yet.