Kylie McCormick argues the case for Nathan Ball being the mouthpiece of a generation with his superb new singleWritten by Kylie McCormick on 12th August 2017
Album Review: Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Have Arcade Fire lost the passion that made them so special? Thom Dent reviews a new album that suffers from all the same problems that dogged their last release, yet is not without its highlights
I must admit that I was never particularly taken with any of the first three singles released in anticipation of Everything Now. I know that two of them have been reviewed, and reviewed well, by my colleagues here at Redbrick Music, but I had nothing to do with their opinions (and do not endorse them). Finding out that these three singles comprise the first three tracks of the record, then, left me feeling less excited and more resigned when July 28th came along, and I finally hit play on the latest blockbuster release from Arcade Fire.
Yet somehow, in the context of the album itself, all three – ‘Signs of Life’, ‘Creature Comfort’ and the titular ‘Everything Now’ – somehow sound much stronger. The simple disco groove of the former reveals itself to be utterly irresistible; the piano lead of the latter now seems more euphoric than superficial. What is this? Is this hope? Could Everything Now, unlike its disappointing predecessor Reflektor, actually make some steps to perfecting this new dancefloor-friendly aesthetic Arcade Fire are shrouding themselves in?
Nope. Because then, BAM, the band come through with a straight run of four absolutely godawful tracks. ‘Peter Pan’, a synth-heavy attempt at new age dub-reggae, fails on almost every front to create something worthwhile. The follow-up, ‘Chemistry’, cranks up the reggae and infuses it with an unhealthy dollop of appalling lyricism, with Win Butler essentially taking on the persona of a creepy stalker that promises ‘you’ve got one choice, maybe two / you can leave with me or I’ll follow you’. It’s eerily similar to the kind of language only Robin Thicke would find acceptable, and results in a mess of a track that is, as SPIN accurately claims, by far the worst Arcade Fire song to date. Next up is ‘Infinite Content’, which has one chord, five words of lyrics and does absolutely nothing to bring up the mood. It’s paired with a B-side acoustic version of exactly the same track, ‘Infinite_Content’, but neither attempt at this song are anything better than hot garbage.
“For all its flaws, there are moments on Everything Now where the stars do align, and we’re treated to some properly good music
These four songs are awful, and are in fact so bad that I think even Arcade Fire realises it, because they spend the rest of the album trying to claw their way back to respectability. Amazingly, they almost instantly come close to reminding us that they are still the group that wrote The Suburbs. ‘Electric Blue’ was, upon release, the strongest of the singles by far, and it maintains that status on the record as well; a glittering pop song that, helped by the return of Regine Chassagne to lead vocal duties, sounds like the baby sister of The Suburbs classic ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. With lyrics such as ‘a thousand girls that look like me / staring out at the open sea’, it’s the band at their whimsical best. At this stage, it seems like Chassagne is the last remaining hope for an earnest Arcade Fire, with Butler still determined to run his ‘nonchalant frontman’ act into the ground.
For all its flaws, there are moments on Everything Now where the stars do align, and we’re treated to some properly good music. ‘Electric Blue’ is one shining example, and penultimate track ‘Put Your Money On Me’ is another – it’s equal parts Tame Impala and ABBA, and an honestly great track on a record where honestly great tracks are few and far between. Because ultimately, Everything Now falls victim to the same ideas it satirises. The message is all good, it comes across loud and clear (if a little too angsty in parts) – the problem is that in most places on this record, the music is almost as vapid and pastiche as these visions of consumerism that Butler and co. attempt to rally us against. It’s an identity crisis of a record, in the same way that Reflektor was four years ago.
Arcade Fire are nowhere near as bad at this disco malarkey as critics love to make out – this was surely proved when they first released the bewitching dancefloor odyssey ‘Reflektor’ back in 2013. The problem is that, four years on, the idea is still half-baked. It’s not that the concept isn’t quality, it’s that the band haven’t really committed themselves to the sound in the same way they did with their original aesthetic. Butler actually sums up this anxiety quite well on ‘Creature Comfort’ – ‘on and on, I don’t know what I want / on and on, I don’t know if I want it’.
“At this stage, it seems like Regine Chassagne is the last remaining hope for an earnest Arcade Fire, with Butler still determined to run his ‘nonchalant frontman’ act into the ground
That being said, at this stage Arcade Fire are, like the massive corporations they aim to criticise on Everything Now, simply too big to fail. The sad truth is, it doesn’t matter what the reviews say – the band could survive indefinitely on this half-baked formula. But I sincerely hope that they don’t. Whatever Arcade Fire’s next project sounds like – whether they continue with their disco efforts, or revert back to the Suburbs-era nostalgia, I do hope that it at least sounds committed.
Looking back, Arcade Fire may have written themselves into a corner in terms of success. Their first album, Funeral, still stands out as one of the greatest debut records of all time, and the band did remarkably well in keeping the bar set impossibly high with their next two albums. And there’s obviously nothing wrong with a band changing their sound – that’s simply what progress demands. With hindsight, it’s impossible to see what else Arcade Fire could have done after their sound was perfected on The Suburbs. But at the end of the day, you can find more passion in ‘Neighbourhood #1’ than you can in the whole of Everything Now. And that, when passion was always Arcade Fire’s speciality, is rather sad.
Everything Now is out now on Columbia Records. Arcade Fire play Birmingham on April 15th.