Last month’s release of Arcade Fire’s fifth album, “Everything Now” (Sonovox Records) was preceded by a tiresome PR campaign that included fictitious reviews, fake news, merchandise and clandestine performances. The band paid a price for all these efforts to promote the album, and even the fact that it was produced by Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk didn’t placate hard core fans. They were disgusted by the Canadian band’s acrobatics, and claimed they had sold their souls to the corporate world.
Arcade Fire, led by husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, leaped onto the music scene in 2004 with their outstanding album “Funeral.” Since then, it has become one of the most successful indie bands in the world, with excellent music, huge shows, lots of buzz and a warm embrace from the right people – David Bowie, for example, who performed on their previous album.
Happily, after listening to the new album, we can relax. Although it isn’t the band’s best album, Arcade Fire certainly hasn’t lost its soul. “Everything Now” is an extreme eruption of emotions – something like emo, but full of sequins.
In terms of sound, Arcade Fire continues the line it adopted in 2013 with the release of its previous album, “Reflektor.” Produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, it garnered enthusiastic reviews. Changes in the band since then stemmed from its desire to create dance music. Now this line is getting a new direction and has been made more accessible, for better or worse.
“Everything Now” is a tribute to the music of the 1980s, to styles the band probably grew up with – a little Clash, a little disco. That’s especially clear in the only song sung by the divine Regine Chassagne, “Electric Blue,” which may or may not be a tribute to David Bowie. It’s also evident in the lyrics, which tend to be somewhat infantile, as though written by Eighties children holed up in their parents’ basement trying to write a rock album. It seems as though Arcade Fire has created a loving tribute to something they once scorned; it’s like going to a wedding of high school friends and dancing to the strains of Eighties hits you hated at the time, but now like a little too much.
Two ways to listen
The Arcade Fire tribute, which ranges from nostalgia to parody, means that for every song on the album there can be two interpretations, sad or amusing, heartbreaking or captivating, calm or energetic. The opening song, “Everything Now (continued),” a short, slow version of the title song, which follows immediately, was designed to tell you there are two ways to listen to this album.
The option of another version exists for all the other songs on the album, and almost all have similar energies – danceable and uplifting. The slow version of the first track appears again at the end of the album, which creates a cyclical feeling: One can listen to it in an endless binge. For these reasons, the emotion that seems to be missing at the start becomes a central part of the album. Sometimes it’s not clear whether the band members take themselves too seriously, or whether they want to mock nostalgia for a lost childhood, a better past that doesn’t exist. The inability to decide creates a lack of uniformity. But the gap between parody and over-seriousness is critical to the album. Without the technical pomposity of many of the songs, this gap could not have been created.
The hint that there can be two versions is what’s interesting, but it’s spoiled with a song that appears twice in a row, “Infinite Content” – first in a rhythmic version, and immediately afterward in a quieter version. The lyrics are unsophisticated, and the repetition becomes a weak point.
Something about “Everything Now” feels like a missed opportunity. It’s not a theme album in the standard sense, but the emphasis on the culture of abundance is repeated throughout. It’s very disappointing that this preoccupation is predictable and sometimes lacks a subtext. That happens in the album’s weak songs, like “Infinite Content,” in which the theme is repeated again and again, and in the chorus of “Everything now”: “I need it / (Everything now!) I want it / (Everything now!) I can’t live without it...” One expects more than clichés from Arcade Fire.
There are also outstanding songs, like “Good God Damn” and “Put Your Money on Me,” and less interesting ones, like the oppressive “Chemistry.” The combination of all of them together is successful and exciting most of the time, but doesn’t reach the heights of the previous albums. Sometimes it’s not clear whether the band members take themselves too seriously, or whether they want to mock nostalgia for a lost childhood, a better past that doesn’t exist. The inability to decide creates a lack of uniformity.
Although “Everything Now” is not free of problems, it does makes us feel like dancing, and Arcade Fire certainly delivers the goods. It’s also fun to see that on its way to becoming one of the world’s greatest bands, this group is not playing it safe, but constantly trying new directions.