There is always significant anticipation any time Arcade Fire announces a new release is pending. The pre release singles and videos have only built the drama. On July 28th “Everything Now” hits all the usual outlets. The follow up to the disco/dance influenced “Reflektor” can at first be a bit of a conundrum. Some early reviewers have questioned the overall point of the record, claiming there is no true focus and that it is a very superficial recording. This could be based on the very droll and sardonic tone of the recording couched in throwback ABBA like sonics.
Arcade Fire always demands their listeners commitment as they blend small scale alternative with a bigger than life anthemic approach offering up unapologetic splendor. “Everything Now” finds the band again taking aim at large ideas and swinging for the fences as they examine the vast crony corporate complex and its impact. The band along with many, fear this entity threatens to overtake individuality and every aspect of our lives. The band portrays this corporate complex as attempting to monetize everything, creating a dystopia where even the air we breathe comes at a cost. The intent is worthy but the question becomes does it work on the release. “Everything Now” was recorded from September 2016 to April of 2017 at Sundragon Studios in NY, NY. Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne along with their numerous fellow band members return for the release along with additional musicians. The album was produced by Arcade Fire, Markus Dravs, who has co-produced their last three albums, Thomas Bangalter, Steve Mackey, Eric Heigle and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow.
The band has always looked to make grand sweeping statements while adding their proprietary blend of melancholy and forlorn hope to the mix. This time they looked to utilizing clap along refrains, chorus hooks and shimmering melodies to get their point across. They have become masters of call out our insecurities and also our culture’s innate hypocrisies. They continue asking questions we may not necessarily want the answers to as they always have throughout their existence. In the past each Arcade Fire recording has dealt with some weighty subjects; “Funeral” dealt with death and heartache, “Neon Bible” dealt with escape from the conformity of modern culture, “Suburbs” looked at how we perceive our own past and if the nostalgia can reflect truthfully and “Reflektor” warned of society’s tendency towards groupthink. “Everything Now” seems to be trying to figure out how long we as a civilization can continue at our frenetic level of existence. Questioning if this is really the best we can attain and just how far short we are falling from the ideal. The sonics of the album keep things gliding along with fantastic accompaniments while trying not to distract from asking big questions.
“Everything Now” begins with what will be three parts of the title track. This first part is an amuse bouche that is a gateway into the album. It is gauzy and slightly trippy ending in a cacophony of sound as it segues into “Everything Now” part II. This biting sardonic track definitely has it out for the faceless corporate complex that is putting a CVS/ “fill in the blank” box store on every corner. The song points out “how having it all” has become the final goal rather than our developing the inner goodness of humanity. It also takes to task our obsession with first world problems and our inability to sacrifice anything for those truly in need, “every room in my house is filled with things I can’t live without, everything now.” The engaging ABBA inspired keyboards keep things bright and energetic as the song excoriates us for our self absorption. The selection is what we have come to expect from Arcade Fire, rousting yet thought provoking.
“Signs of Life” and Creature Comfort” Take on our angst and the disenfranchisement that occurs in the face of having everything made available. Even when we get it all we still find a haunting emptiness. The sonics of “Signs of Life” utilize a great bass and strings and follows in the path of “Rococo and We Exist” off of “Suburbs” and “Reflektor”. I also perceive some serious Talking Heads flair. “Creature Comfort” utilizes a definite techno/synth styling as it too looks at our obsession with the outer person at the expense to our souls. The track has this uncanny refrain, “God make me famous, if not just make it painless”, which displays so aptly our society’s troubled collective psyche.
“Peter Pan and Chemistry” are another pairing on the record. Sonically they both share an underlying Reggae influence. “Peter Pan” mixes that sonic with a distorted industrial new wave vibe as it discusses death at an early age. The more hip/hop “Chemistry” displays a love sick soul. This individual senses a connection that may not be there giving off a slightly stalker vibe, “You and me got chemistry…you can leave with me, or I can go with you.” The lyric underlines the technological isolation of our current society.
The album moves on to the duel tracks of “Infinite Content” with the first selection again acting like an amuse bouche and then the second track being the main song. The intro is a grinding guitar punk affair and the second section has a mellower less threatening feel. The vocal in the second offering is like a canned marketing presentation. That approach makes it all the more disturbing as it cleverly attacks materialism ending with the sound of cash registers ringing up sales.
“Electric Blue” is a definite highlight of the release. It reminds me a lot of The Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” and is on the surface a delightful synth/keyboard confection. But underneath the helium loaded sonics and Regine’s high register vocal delivery dark things are afoot. Taken to task is our only valuing surface beauty and not valuing the inner person. The song points out how we have been sold a bill of goods only taking things at face value, accepting what we want to be the truth over what is real truth, “repeat the words until the words are true.” I love this song and it is for me Regine’s very best track in the Arcade Fire discography.
The droll and clever “Good God Damn” is in itself justification for buying the release. The title is a play on words. The track questioning belief in God and what the response is if in your unbelief you find God exists, damn, you’re wrong and damned. Sonically there is much to love with a throbbing bass and outrageously great guitar hook that takes place in a minimalistic surrounding which is not characteristic of Arcade Fire. It is a spectacular track. “ Put Your Money on Me” is another winning track that begins as a retro 80’s tune and then warps into a electro/dance track, think Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys as channeled by Arcade Fire. I predict fans of Arcade Fire will either love or hate this track there is no middle ground. This brilliant love song contains the great line, “I’m never going to let you go, even when it is easy.” “We don’t Deserve Love” follows along the same thematic lines examining the challenges to a relationship with a pulled around pixelated sonic. The album ends with the final version of “Everything Now”. This selection is the final denouement to the album as it arrives home from the journey. It utilizes a variation of the prior versions of “Everything Now” as a signature coda.
“Everything Now” on the surface seems almost too easy to listen to for an Arcade Fire release, but that is the façade. Underneath is a rich and introspective album that does what the band does best, ask the hard questions and hold society accountable. “Everything Now” comes across at times as something as light as cotton candy seemly lightweight which is an ultimate head fake. The topics are anything but insubstantial. For critics who claim not to understand the point of the release stating it is obscure at best; I believe the themes are obvious and those critics who don’t get it are being willfully obtuse. The album needs a listen or two to catch every nuance but once captured is rewarding and a definite grower. I would also put money down on these songs when delivered live becoming classics for the fandom.
Win Butler and Co. rarely opt for the path of least resistance, selecting to walk a risky high wire between brilliance and failure. This release is their most risky to date, but I am convinced they have pulled it off. They are certainly not a band who would serve up reheated versions of “Wake Up” for the rest of their career. Arcade Fire never shies away from seeing the world as it is and daring to dream of a better future. There is a reason they are a force to be reckoned with and “Everything Now” continues their storied reputation as adventurous leaders in the Alternative music genre.