Album Review: Arcade Fire - Everything Now

I imagine that it’s pretty difficult being in the Arcade Fire.

And I don’t just mean the husband and wife at the front of the band—Win Butler and Regine Chassagne—who bear the heaviest crosses of them all creatively speaking. No, I’m talking about someone like Jeremy Garga, the band’s drummer, or Tim Kingsbury, a multi-instrumentalist—both of whom have played with the group for over a decade.

Imagine being “the guy who plays the drums in the Arcade Fire,” and just having to go along with whatever weird and obnoxious shit Butler and Chassagne have cooked up for a new album cycle, simply because they are your meal ticket and you enjoy getting a paycheck.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to see that as a band, the Arcade Fire reached their peak in 2010 with The Suburbs—a culmination of everything they had been building toward since the beginning. Dense and lengthy, it was a self-aware and referential concept album that is still accessible to a casual listener, and found the band still mostly working within their original sound (grandiose and sweeping indie rock), only occasionally dabbling into other areas.

Three years later, the band returned with the double LP, Reflektor—anchored by a new sound, the album was introduced through a long, and mildly irritating roll out, including a mysterious Instagram account, street art, faux 12” singles with the band billed as ‘The Reflektors,’ secret concerts with a celebrity audience filmed to be used in a bizarre post-“Saturday Night Life” special, et. al.

The album was good, sure—a little on the self-indulgent side since it was conceived as a double LP, so at times it was difficult to completely crack, but the issue with an elaborate marketing plan is that it can, at times, overshadow the artist and the music it was intended to promote in the first place.

This brings us to the Arcade Fire’s fifth album—Everything Now, their first for Columbia Records, abruptly jumping ship from independent powerhouse Merge—their home since the beginning. The roll out for Everything Now is about as maddening and irritating as the music found within the album itself: song titles revealed through a series of anagrams, false news stories placed on the internet about the band claiming ownership of the ‘Millennial Whoop,’ or being deeply financially tied to a failed Terry Gilliamfilm, and now, shortly before the album’s release, a fake review of it on a parody music news website.1

At a certain point, it all becomes too meta, and too self-aware to comprehend what is real, and what is a joke; and, if the band can even tell anymore.

Or if they even care.

When they’re not horsing around with the internet, and possibly dictating how people dress at their record release shows, wearing custom “Everyting Now” jackets or shiny suits like Puff Daddy did in the mid-90s, they do find the time to make music, and Everything Now is the result of that.

While there were clear concepts on Funeral, Neon Bible, and The Suburbs, the concept on Everything Now isn’t exactly as well developed. And maybe that’s the point. There is an idea going around online that this album is purposefully this messy and frustrating to listen to—the ultimate trolling of their fans, if you will.

If one wants to glean any kind of idea or underlying theme from Everything Now, it’s that of an ‘information overload,’ something that is echoed in the expression Everything Now, as well as in the name of the upcoming tour in support of the record—the Infinite Content tour—the title bestowed upon not one, but two, tracks on the record.

That kind of repetition is one of the key elements to Everything Now—there are a whopping three tracks with some variation of “Everything Now” as their title, and musically and lyrically, this time around, the band seems to be relying very heavily on hooky, repetitive songs to power the album. They’re not good songs—no, don’t get it twisted. The songs on Everything Now are garbage.

They are, however, incredibly catchy garbage.

Despite my best effort, after listening to Everything Now, and wishing I hadn’t had to do so, there are bits of these songs I cannot scrub from my brain—specifically the main titular track, even with its cringe worthy, Rusted Root-level flute breakdown, as well as the scuzzy synth that slithers its way through the pleading “Creature Comforts.”

The album begins in a similarly grand and sweeping fashion as many of the Arcade Fire’s albums do—“Everything Now” is a rollicking opening track, structured around a piano and string melody and driving rhythm as the band chants over the top of it all.

And then there’s that fucking flute.

Things get worse from there: “Signs of Life” is one of many songs on Everything Now that find Win Butler talk-singing, or nearly rapping, as opposed to singing. It’s ironic, because in the dark ages of 2004, when I was first introduced to the band, one of the things I could not get behind was Butler’s yelpy, howling singing voice. He grew into it, and I came to appreciate it as a bit of an acquired listen. But god damn, do I miss that yelp, because here all we’re left with is dude delivering some “The Message” level flow: “Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday sometimes Sunday/Love is hard, sex is easy,” he deadpans as the band shuffles frenetically behind him.

Things, if you can believe it, get worse from there as the album continues—Butler tackles the fine line between fame and suicide on the aforementioned “Creature Comforts”: “She told me she came so close,” he says in that talk-sing/rap voice again. “Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.” Then, there’s the song pre-chorus—“God make me famous/if you can’t, just make it painless.”

He follows this with the trite “Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan” (awful imagery) on jumpy and jitter (and aptly titled) “Peter Pan”; and he sinks even lower in the cliché department on stomping “Chemistry”—“You and me, we’ve got chemistry.

In comparison to The Suburbs and Reflektor, Everything Now is a mercifully short record. After the shrill sounding, obligatory Regine-on-lead vocals track, “Electric Blue,” and the forgettable “Good God Damn,” the album takes a surprising turn into two relatively palatable tracks: “Put Your Money on Me” is about as close as you’re going to get on this record to a song that sounds like the old Arcade Fire. The lyrics, yes, leave a little to be desired, but the driving intensity and urgency the song has is unrivaled by anything else here.

And, prior to the album’s conclusion, is the surprisingly reserved, yet on the cusp of being grand and sweeping, “We Don’t Deserve Love,” which segues into the third, and final, iteration of “Everything Now,” an extended reprise that takes us back to how the album opened.

Everything Now is not exactly a career killer, but given that Pitchfork, a site that helped foster them from day one, panned the shit out this thing, it may take a little time to recover. The record buckles under its own sky-high ambition and weight before it even begins.  Musically, it’s not strong enough of a record to stand on its own outside of all these larger ideas circulating to help drive the promotion of it—and the band seems to barely be hanging on to the concept in the first place.

It’s not a record that is going to make any new fans for the band; no one is going to discover the Arcade Fire via Everything Now, and if this is your first time hearing the group—I’m sorry. They are so much better than this weird experiment of social commentary set to music. It’s a record that will more than likely alienate or drive away some longtime fans—satire certainly is not for everyone.

The issue is that this album lacks the organic, real feeling that their earlier efforts had—the band has become too reliant on synthesizers and percussion that is produced in such a way that it sounds canned, rather than played by a person—“the guy who plays drums in the Arcade Fire.” And in creating an album so deep within its own collapsing high concept of satire and commentary on the ‘information age,’ the band has completely forgotten to include any kind of emotional weight in a majority of these songs, which makes it an almost immediately forgettable listen.

If you like throwing your money away on terrible garbage, Everything Now is available as we speak, via Columbia. 

1- it seems worth noting that after Stereogum panned the album’s first single pretty hard, and cast quite a bit of doubt on the Arcade Fire as a band. The band themselves trolled Stereogum pretty hard in response (twice now), and the site seemingly has walked back their ‘this is going to be an unlistenable mess’ stance in its review of the album.