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Monday, July 23, 2018

Arcade Fire: Everything Now


1) Everything Now (continued); 2) Everything Now; 3) Signs Of Life; 4) Creature Comfort; 5) Peter Pan; 6) Chemistry; 7) Infinite Content; 8) Infinite Content; 9) Electric Blue; 10) Good God Damn; 11) Put Your Money On Me; 12) We Don't Deserve Love; 13) Everything Now (continued).

General verdict: Catchy dance hooks, intelligent message, passable 1977-meets-2017 arrangements. What was the band's name again?..

Well, guess the expected «back to roots» revival is postponed again. But really, you just know something is not quite right when the general critical consensus is starting to turn against the biggest (or, at least, formerly biggest) band of the 21st century — despite the fact that they seem to be doing everything right. On their fifth LP, Arcade Fire continue to avoid the trap of whatever passes these days for «rockism», while at the same time trying to stick to their core values, dreams, and phobias. They even lower their ambitions a little, sensing that, perhaps, Reflektor might have shot too high and mighty with its art-for-art-sake conceptualism, sprawling song lengths, and bombastic arrangements. Result? This band is lost. As in, literally lost in the forest. "Looking for signs of life / But there's no signs of life / So we do it again" — this verse just about perfectly describes the state they are in at the moment.

Ironically, Everything Now is not a «bad» record at all, not if by «bad» we mean «boring». Its dance-pop stamp is now so solemnly official, they actually take care to attach an unforgettable melodic or vocal hook to nearly each of the tracks — they are perfect for club consumption, so perfect that the title track became their biggest selling single to date. In terms of pure listening enjoyment, I cannot honestly recognize that it is a step down from the level of Reflektor. But if we are talking about music that is supposed to transcend run-of-the-mill mediocrity on any given level, then Everything Now fails on all counts. It is not a genuine Arcade Fire record — and neither is it a respectable, top-of-the-line dance-pop record. And perhaps it fails on both these counts precisely because it tries to be both at the same time.

Structure-wise, the album takes it cue from The Wall: ʽEverything Nowʼ is present here in two versions (a fast-danceable and a slow-ceremonial one), the second of which is broken in two segments so that the second one is at the beginning of the album and the first one is at the end. But if Pink Floyd at least made a point with this gimmick (implying that walls are only torn down to be built up again), Arcade Fire, whose song cycle here is hardly a rock opera, just make a gim­mick with this gimmick. It does make you want to try to take this cycle seriously: after all, we have a ten-year history of taking this band seriously, so why stop now?

Unfortunately, as soon as the dance-pop version of ʽEverything Nowʼ invades your personal space, taking it seriously requires a lobotomy. So here is this song about oversaturation — Win Butler is complaining about how "every song that I've ever heard / is playing at the same time, it's absurd" and how "every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn't live without". These are valid points, I am ready to admit this without irony. But what do they have to do with an old-fashioned disco beat, underpinning a piano line that sounds like a porn parody version of ʽDancing Queenʼ? Why are they once again flogging that old horse — dropping subliminal anti-consumerist messages inside one of the most consumer-oriented media ever? How is this ironic rant against the illusory comforts and fake pleasures of modern life going to work in the context of music that brings about visions of leisure suits and mirror balls?

Okay, so they did it before, so they do it again. But here comes the worst part: this music no longer requires the Arcade Fire logotype. The collective power of the band that once rocked the world down with its multi-instrumental onslaught on tracks such as ʽPower Outʼ, ʽBlack Mirrorʼ, or ʽReady To Startʼ, is no longer felt. Everything and everybody is faceless and replaceable here, and that concerns Win and Regine as well: their voices are losing individuality, merging with everything else behind a wall of effects — I am pretty sure they would explain this as a symbolic representation of the loss of individuality by modern man as such, but hey, I'd be more than happy seeing the two play Winston and Julia in the face of Big Brother, and they sure as hell would be capable of that, so why don't they?

Or perhaps the worst part is that every now and then, the album descends into genuine boy-meets-girl stuff without any hints of irony — Win does this with ʽChemistryʼ, a synthpop-rockabilly exercise in sexless sexuality, and Regine with ʽElectric Blueʼ, a song that re-casts her in her old ʽSprawl IIʼ role as dance-pop forest nymph but completely misses the mark by glossing over her vocals and going for commercially cute seductiveness rather than an atmosphere of exuberant freedom, which was all over ʽSprawl IIʼ. And I like ʽElectric Blueʼ: I think its hooks are among the album's best. But there is like a million dance-pop bands today that could have come up with something like that; why should the authors of Funeral want to lose themselves in that crowd?

All right, so they do not want to be Winston and Julia, so perhaps they really want to be Wendy and Peter Pan, and this is why they dive into the world of twee and retreat to the sonic comforts of the Eighties — the last great decade of hedonistic innocence. But in that case, what's up with all the dread and despair that still keeps cropping up? ʽGood God Damnʼ seems to be about suicide; ʽCreature Comfortʼ is about crumpling under all the insane social pressure; ʽPut Your Money On Meʼ tells the lover to "tuck me into bed, and wake me when I'm dead". The album is tearing itself apart with these extremes, which never really feel at home with each other. And it seems that at least one of the extremes itself has more to do with crumpling under social pressure than with honoring the artistic message of Arcade Fire — because, honestly, all those years ago, when the band was just emerging from under the protective post-rock shadow of God Speed You! Black Emperor, who would have guessed that they would eventually morph into such casual disco revivalists?..

The real bad news is that while the record has certainly sold well and has managed to certify the casual man, Everything Now is going to irritate the hell out of the thinking parts of the audience on both sides. Young optimists will kick it for being too grumpy and complaining too much about the young optimists and their "infinite content, infinite content, we're infinitely content" attitudes. Old pessimists will despise it for pandering to the mindless dance instincts of the crowds (and that's not counting all those glitter suits that Arcade Fire like to sport nowadays just because, you know, nothing is more anti-establishment than draping yourselves in establishment). This semi-sell-out is, in fact, even more treacherous than a complete 180 degree turnaround; and nothing is more illustrative of it than the current shamefully low rating that the album enjoys on RYM.

I cannot put the blame on individual songs, though. Three listens into the album and I have them pretty much memorized — quite an achievement, actually. But what is the good of memorizing something if there is no emotional satisfaction? There were three things I used to love about Arcade Fire — Win Butler as the tormented prosecutor, Regine Chassagne as the newly born child of the universe, Arcade Fire as a multi-elemental unstoppable force of nature. And we may have Everything Now if you say so, but of all those three, the record only retains broken shards of the tormented prosecutor, whose regular job now consists of singing about how "you and me, we got chemistry".

Perhaps it's all intentional, perhaps it's all for our good. Perhaps, they say, these are the musical forms that are most accessible for today's new generation of consumers, and perhaps there are certain trends that you just have to follow if you want to ensure that your message of hope, faith, and warning gets spread around. And, of course, this is far from the first time that an artist has sold his soul to the machine in order to expose the machine; in fact, some artists have managed to do this quite brilliantly over the course of pop history. Arcade Fire, however, do this crudely and unconvincingly. And now, as they approach the fifteenth year of their existence, they also tend to sound more and more like grumpy old men (dressed in leisure suits) rather than the prophets of the young generation that they were at the time of Funeral. Will they ever make a meaningful comeback? Possibly — the problem is, by the time they do, the world will most likely have already written them out of its plus-ça-change history. They came, they amazed, they adapted. Next position, please.


  1. Great review, George. Spot on, all the way through.

  2. Omg, excellent review! Hats off, George.