Release Date: Jul 28, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Arcade Fire have spent a career making a virtue of their own pomposity. Since 2004 debut 'Funeral', they've been unafraid to wrestle with big ideas that most bands wouldn't touch with a barge pole. If it sometimes appears as though they believe society's ills can be solved, or at least diagnosed, through the medium of grandiose art-rock records, you nonetheless have to admire their conviction that music ought to represent something more than mere 'content'.
In the run-up to the release of Arcade Fire's new album, Everything Now, it's easy to wonder if there's a bit of the Mandela Effect going on. The group has been cleverly creating a series of fake news articles ranging from an expose linking the band to extremist groups to the announcement of the non-existent Rock Band: Arcade Fire video game to an incredible takedown of modern day music journalism with their "Stereoyum" parody. There are more than a half-dozen of these satirical stories out there, each mocking a separate corner of the internet and its denizens, each fooling another chunk of Facebook users looking for the next headline to inspire an uninformed rant.
T his fifth Arcade Fire album could be subtitled "Content and its Discontents". Everything Now takes as its starting point the vast terabytes of cultural perma-chatter that fill our shrinking attention spans. The Roman writer Juvenal identified "bread and circuses" as the tool by which emperors kept the populace mollified. We're well into circuses 2.0, engulfed by mental flotsam put out by an array of friends, brands, bands, news organisations, presidents (sad!) and record reviewers.
On their last LP, Arcade Fire wrestled with an age-old question: How does an earnest rock band reclaim the music's dance-floor birthright? Reflektor's answer sprawled over two discs of impressive groove curation - synth-pop, disco, electro, Haitian rara, dub reggae and more - with help from LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, a battery of Haitian drummers and even a cameo by the patron saint of rock & roll transformations, David Bowie. The set was ambitious and frequently dazzling. But sonically and thematically, the LP also pulled back on the emphatic intensity that's defined the band and made it matter, ever since its landmark 2004 debut, Funeral.
Win Butler's tendency toward increasingly portentous freshman-level pop philosophizing about the dilemmas of the technological age reached an at times unwieldy peak on Arcade Fire's 2013 album Reflektor. As a lyricist, Butler's wheelhouse has always been various manifestations of teen angst—a driving theme on both Arcade Fire's Funeral and The Suburbs—and the band's new album, Everything Now, finds him once again singing mostly about “the kids,” as he so often calls them. But the album also marks a clear and surprising shift in Butler's perspective: Rather than sounding crushed by the weight of the world, he seems more resilient, almost chipper.
Arcade Fire's fourth album, 2013's 'Reflektor', saw the Canadians truly push the boundaries of their band for the first time. The James Murphy-produced epic of world-weary disco gave them a whole new lease of life. This time around, with follow-up 'Everything Now', they've taken the reinvention even further. The album's title track and first single opens with an Abba-lite piano riff while Win Butler muses on a culture of instant gratification.
On debut album Funeral the band took the heartache and numbness of loss, and with it they fuelled universal anthems in a way no one else can match. On Neon Bible they carved out their escape through a post-modern culture lost in its own contradictions. The Suburbs saw the band looking back, nostalgia and mistrust mixing together in heartwarming resolve to forge something brighter, while Reflektor firmly faced the here and now, a shimmering cry through society's echo chamber.
Since Arcade Fire debuted with Funeral, their 2004 masterpiece about death and grieving, one aspect has defined their epic music above all else: They’re not ones for subtlety. Like 2013’s overwrought Reflektor, the band’s fifth LP tackles information overload in the digital age -- but the result is hit-and-miss. The concept lands beautifully on “Everything Now,” a heartland-rock ode to consumption; less so on “Infinite Content,” a 97-second ditty with the trite refrain “Infinite content, we’re infinitely content.
Marketing has become increasingly intertwined with every new Arcade Fire release as the years have passed and the band's profile has soared. It appeared to reach a crescendo with the Canadian six-piece's fourth LP, 2013's Reflektor, which was preceded by a guerrilla marketing campaign (or "a weird art project" as Win Butler called it) that included cryptic logos, graffiti and playing under the name "The Reflektors". However, the build-up to Reflektor pales in comparison to Everything Now.
Arcade Fire's fifth album is striking for both its fearless - arguably hubristic - jettisoning of much that people loved about the Montreal collective, and its total, wholehearted embrace of what one might loosely describe as new wave synth pop. Lead single 'Everything Now' is a bit of a red herring: as has been widely noted, it sounds fair bit like ABBA. Less widely noted - because why would you? - is that it also sounds a fair bit like Arcade Fire.
Arcade Fire is a little bit like the girl with the curl on their fifth album Everything Now. There are wonderful things here, mostly at the start and at the end, where the band is breaking exciting ground even after hitting so many heights on previous albums. Then there are the valleys, particularly in the middle of the record, where they seem to be having an identity crisis.
Arcade Fire's music has always contained an undeniable, unquantifiable spark. Each album, from Funeral to Reflektor, had the unique ability to combine gravity with weightlessness. Every fiber of your being would shout and dance in the hopes of launching off the planet with them. But on Everything Now, that spark has faded in favor of overblown lyrics and weak songwriting.
On their fifth album, Everything Now, Arcade Fire make their first significant stumble, opting more for style over their typical substance. In their search for what's real in an ephemeral and oversaturated society, they've fallen prey to the very gloss they seek to lampoon, resulting in a lack of the emotion that defined their earlier efforts. Also, with lyrics that are a little too on the nose, much of Everything Now ends up being too clever for its own good, which distracts from some otherwise interesting additions to their catalog.
L ast week, Arcade Fire took the unusual step of posting a fake review of their fifth album. On a webpage mocked up to look like US music blog Stereogum, the Canadian sextet attempted to second-guess the critical response to Everything Now: dance-influenced tracks will be compared "favorably but slightly dismissively to LCD Soundsystem"; the album itself will "eventually be evaluated as one of the best of the year". It was the latest stage in a promotional campaign that feels as if it has been going on for about 200 years, during which Arcade Fire have pretended to be in the employ of a company called Everything Now Corp, which also manufactures fizzy drinks and energy bars and is aggressively marketing the band via ice-cream sponsorship deals and the placement of stories about them across the media.
Arcade Fire have variously been hailed for their instrumentation, arrangements and lyrics over their decade-and-a-half existence, but at the centre of their appeal lies their greatest, and most important strength: songwriting. The band were already using classic songwriting tools (key changes, tempo variation) on their debut record, Funeral, and in the years since, have evolved and added more. At their best, Arcade Fire's songwriting channelled greats like Bruce Springsteen, Velvet Underground, the Cure and Joy Division.
The first three Arcade Fire albums amounted to a war on boredom: a throat-shredding, orchestro-rock affront to the various afflictions - apathy, religion, suburban life - that suppress our will to live. With 2013's disco detour, Reflektor, the band waged war on amusement, breaking our addiction to URLs with an invitation to dance IRL. But for their fifth record, they set their crosshairs on a more nebulous target: everything, or rather our need to have it all - money, music, sex, fame - all of the time.
Arcade Fire's 2013 rollout for Reflektor was, in many ways, as memorable as that record’s music. There was the guerrilla graffiti art campaign that cryptically ushered in awareness of the project before seeing blowback for property damage. There were the secret shows where fans were instructed to dress up in their shiniest. There was the Saturday Night Live post-show special that featured the likes of Michael Cera, Ben Stiller, and Bono.
Arcade Fire became a new band for their 2013 album Reflektor, a prismatic, 75-minute carnival of genres about creating meaningful connections in a diffuse technological age. Before the album came out, they billed themselves as the Reflektors, with a fake website, a fake album, a bunch of secret shows, and some top-heavy papier-mâché masks. As this new band, they were reborn on the dance floor.
For almost the last 15 years Arcade Fire have been the torchbearers for indie rock, a rollicking collective of multi-instrumentalists who created a love affair with the early blogs of the new millennium. They had the records to back it up; from 2004's larger-than-life debut Funeral to 2010's Grammy winning ode to the small town The Suburbs, Arcade Fire simply could not be touched critically. Even 2013's double disc dance floor opus Reflektor, while not as immediately grabbing, can be easily read as a slow-burner that acts as a major influence 10 years down the line (much like Kanye West's 808's and Heartbreak or Yeezus).
It's easy to forget that Arcade Fire was born sounding like an Elephant Six band that worshipped Bruce Springsteen instead of the Beatles. Everything nimble or hesitant has long lain dormant in their sound—replaced by confidence and self-importance. What is Arcade Fire in 2017? It’s clear what they aren't. They aren't compelling; they aren't bombastic.
The idea that we're dealing with an information overload is nothing new, but if you were to suggest bands that might document it well in the 21st century, Arcade Fire would be on the shortlist. It's such a shame then, that after four albums with generally astonishing peaks (2013's Here Comes The Night Time remains an absolute banger), they should deliver a record so, well, devoid. It started well - the title track, flash released as a 12" at shows this summer, suggested a lighter, upbeat sound.
The songs of Everything Now are far less adventurous and reflective than those of the band’s last album, Reflektor, which, although on the long side, contained some really excellent work, from its star-studded title track to the beautifully melancholy “Afterlife.” Reflektor often ….
When one of your favourite bands releases a disappointing record, it's tempting to break critical ranks and exaggerate its shortcomings, such as they're invariably amplified by the critic's fandom; it's even easier to submit to overreaction or contrarianism. So let me be completely clear that this is not one of those reviews. Arcade Fire's Everything Now is a terrible, terrible album.
The Internet gave life to Arcade Fire. In the mid-2000s this indie-rock band from Montreal broke out as one of the earliest beneficiaries of an online music culture engineered for hype. Websites such as Pitchfork and Stereogum wrote rapturously about the group, while fans in the thousands downloaded its songs from the MP3 blogs that helped drive music discovery in the era before digital streaming.
Arcade Fire, a band not generally celebrated for its sense of humor, recently posted a spoof review of its fifth studio album, "Everything Now" (Columbia). It was perhaps designed as a pre-emptive strike against the type of reviews that inevitably rain down on a band that has moved past critical darling phase into mid-career stasis. What eludes them is an even better response to that sort of media skepticism: A great album, and "Everything Now" is not that.
Over the last decade-plus, Arcade Fire has been a fixture in every debate about who is the biggest band in the world. As a term, it’s pretty loose. Arcade Fire’s inclusion in this debate is effectively mandatory because, quite simply, everything about them is huge. They didn’t write singles, they wrote albums, and their albums were statements.
Have you ever watched Win Butler's appearances at the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game? What a bizarrely incongruous thing for the frontman of the most successful indie rock band of the 21st century to do, bobbing around the court with diminutive comedians and lesser Cabinet members. Butler, who actually won the MVP one year, comes off like a particularly domineering player. He calls for the ball when he's way out of position, forces passes even LeBron James might call a stretch, takes ill-advised shots with the shamelessness of caffeinated Xbox teens.
Pretentious. Brave. Experimental. Divisive. A lot of these will be used to describe Arcade Fire's Everything Now and honestly, they all apply. Arcade Fire are no longer an indie band nor anything near the rock genre. That was obvious with the transition made from The Suburbs to Reflektor. There ….
When Arcade Fire broke cover last month with single 'Everything Now', they offered their statement of intent for the concept of their fifth studio album of the same name. The joyous single combines infectious rhythms, dazzling ABBA-inspired piano hooks, festival-filling chants and even… a flute sample. It's the band at their most brilliant -- while still occupying that disco-floor that was laid down by previous effort 'Reflektor'.
Arcade Fire's "Everything Now" rests on an admittedly timely conceit (and I do mean that in both senses of the word): namely, that Internet culture, and the corporatized oversaturation of content it has wrought, is transforming both how we access and interpret information — potentially, and in the band's constantly restated opinion, for the worse. The Montreal indie-rock outlet took great care to stress its current social anxiety throughout a meta-marketing campaign encompassing everything from fidget spinners to a faux "Stereoyum" music review site. As with "Reflektor" (an underwhelming, overlong album focused on technology's isolating impact), it may prove difficult to separate the band's new music — its fifth LP and second since "The Suburbs," the Grammy-awarded magnum opus Arcade Fire has seemed desperate to outrun ever since its release — from the overblown manner in which it was promoted.