Widgets Magazine

Two points of view on Arcade Fire’s ‘Everything Now’

Arcade Fire at the Roskilde Festival on July 1st, 2017 (Krists Luhaers/Flickr).

Sometimes, an album comes out and creates so much critical discussion among the members of the Daily’s music beat that we feel that it deserves more than one point of view. Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” is one of those albums, for better or for worse:

Nick Burns: High points and low on Arcade Fire’s long-awaited “Everything Now”

A specter is haunting Arcade Fire’s music: The specter of contemporary society. Like its modern-rock peers Radiohead and Wilco, society plays a central role in each Arcade Fire album, a source of both dread and inspiration. While the other two bands, older and later in their careers, have lately cooled down on modern anxiety (cf. Wilco’s “Schmilco,” Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool”), Arcade Fire has only been getting more panicked about the tendencies of its own civilization.

Since 2007’s “Neon Bible,” Arcade Fire has used each album to explore themes close to the fractious heart of contemporary life. “Neon Bible” took on religion, “The Suburbs” the strangeness and alienation of suburbia. 2013’s “Reflektor” found unity more in a common tone and musical quality than in a theme: The double album’s dance-influenced sound, engineered in part by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, gave the band room to develop its trademark dark irony and Joan Didion-esque worry.

The theme of “Everything Now” theme is self-explanatory: The overstimulated, unthinking, cannibalistic quality of the modern capitalist world. The title track and opener are anthemic and alienated in a familiar Arcade Fire way, but with a different kind of tongue-in-cheek, eighties-influenced pop-conformism.

Arcade Fire have long been considered part of indie rock’s avant-garde, a reputation confirmed by “Reflektor,” which sparked a wave of dance-influenced indie rock. This time, they’re following a popular trend in indie rock — borrowing from eighties sounds — but doing so in a consciously uncool way.

“Everything Now” is indeed, and (fitting, considering its gaudy title) packed with 80s allusion. If listeners didn’t get the hint on the title track, the rather uninspired “Signs of Life,” which follows it, makes the album’s retro stylings even more obvious, featuring saxophone, handclaps, and even a Talking Heads–style hysterical vocal flourish.“Creature Comfort,” next on the track listing, opens with a low, menacing synth beat before Win Butler gives his best, gloves-off j’accuse of modern society: “Some girls hate themselves / Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback / Say, ‘God, make me famous / If you can’t, just make it painless.’”

It’s familiar Arcade Fire lyrical territory: a conditional prayer juxtaposing girls and boys against a grim backdrop (like the title track on “The Suburbs”). Though there are certainly moments on the album where Butler’s attitude towards society seems simplistic, unoriginal or superior, “Creature Comfort” is a triumph, mixing themes of fame and suicide that run through the rest of the album.

There’s a palpable anger in Butler’s words that makes the song the most satisfying on the album to play loud, and the sentiment is both genuine and ambivalent. Who is that anger directed towards? The girls and boys tearing themselves apart surely aren’t to blame. The song even hints at an awareness that the band itself is part of the malevolent cultural gestalt eating away at young people. One line references an apparently true story of a young fan who almost found the drive to end her life in the band’s music: “She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.”

The remainder of the album does not manage to recapture the lyrical depth of “Creature Comfort.” There are plenty of eighties references that will interest aficionados of that decade’s music. On “Peter Pan” alone there are several lyrical references to Bruce Springsteen, along with what seems to be a reference to U2’s “One,” and a few tracks (the foot-thumping “Chemistry”) preserve just enough of a sense of irony and unease to keep its almost Aerosmith-esque chorus riff from seeming cheap.

But especially disappointing are the twin tracks “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content”: the same song done in imitations of punk and country, respectively. Employing rather rudimentary wordplay, Arcade Fire make a simplistic effort at displaying a variety of musical styles meant to suggest the flat mélange that is, in their view, modern culture.

“Electric Blue,” the title likely a Bowie reference, resembles Blondie’s hit “Heart of Glass,” and contains a chilling, gossamery vocal performance by Régine Chassagne, but is lyrically unsophisticated, while “Good God Damn” is musically unstimulating and doesn’t go to any ground that was treated more compellingly on “Creature Comfort.” “We Don’t Deserve Love,” is familiar as a slow-paced Arcade Fire closer. It builds to a moving crescendo with Chassagne’s high background vocals and Butler’s falsetto, and its Christian allusions and themes of unworthiness are compelling, if somewhat out of place.

“Everything Now” as a whole lacks the scope, as well as the sense of musical self-assuredness that its predecessor “Reflektor” displayed, but it likely does not deserve the scorn and feigned shock that most of the rock establishment has displayed towards it. There are flashes of lyrical brilliance on “Everything Now,” and the album is generally enjoyable to listen to. Arcade Fire remains the biggest band to watch in modern rock, and their worries about the psychic ravages of a culture like a runaway train are current and worth paying attention to. The attention to disco and facets of eighties music still unredeemed in the eyes of contemporary rockers demonstrates that Arcade Fire is willing to defy current tastes without becoming an archaism — a tendency without which the band could not have made 2013’s “Reflektor” and which promises good things for its future.

Jacob Kuppermann: Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” is a Waste of Your Time

“Everything Now,” the fifth album by critically acclaimed Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire, is exceedingly bad.

That could almost be the whole review. The album’s sheer incompetence at all facets of being an album is so evident from listening to any ten seconds of almost any of its songs that it’s a bit too easy to critique. “Everything Now” feels like a compilation of lyrical first drafts and musical goofs, like something that should have been locked away in a vault in Montreal for thirty years and only released as part of a late career retrospective.

In an ideal world, an aged Win Butler would dismissively gesture towards to the masters for “Everything Now” on a livestream of the Arcade Fire museum and say, “Oh, ha, those are the tapes from when we looked at a lot of Banksy and made a reggae-disco album.”

Instead, “Everything Now” is a very real album that all six members of Arcade Fire decided was a good idea to release. The most galling thing is that, after three and a half years of anticipation since their last album “Reflektor,” “Everything Now” arrives lazy and lightweight. Despite the overall strength of its grooves and songwriting, “Reflektor” was ultimately too long and bloated to achieve the greatness of Arcade Fire’s debut, “Funeral,” and third album, “The Suburbs.” “Everything Now” has the opposite problem. Despite its 47 minute run-time, the record doesn’t feel like it’s saying that much. This is not to say albums have to make grand statements to be great — I like plenty of albums that are just fun collections of songs (Migos’ “Culture,” which no one would confuse for a concept album, is one of the best albums of the year so far.)

The issue here, though, is that Arcade Fire is clearly trying to make grand statements.

“Everything Now’s” ad campaign made it clear that the album would be Arcade Fire’s grand statement on modern technology, social media and the damned millennials. Unfortunately, that ad campaign, with its barrage of parody news articles and so-bad-its-good marketing gimmicks, was far cleverer than anything actually on the album. The album itself has nothing to profound to say, and whatever it does have to say is expressed with all the grace of a sledgehammer through brick. “Signs of Life,” a track that begins with an image of “cool kids stuck in the past,” starts its third verse by simply reciting the days of the week— “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday/Friday, Saturday, sometimes Sunday”— a move that wasn’t even cute when the Black Eyed Peas did it 8 years ago. The nadir of the album, a stretch lasting from “Signs of Life” to the unnecessarily doubled “Infinite Content,” is the longest, most pointless 19 minutes you’ll find in an album this year. “Infinite Content,” which is included as both a punk rave-up and a chilled-out country pastiche, is the biggest waste of time— essentially, its only lyrics are “Infinite content, infinite content, we’re infinitely content.” This wordplay is almost offensively banal, and completely devoid of any actual social commentary.

The band’s musical performances are not quite as bad as their lyrics, but there are a fair number of tracks here that just sound flat-out ugly. Win Butler chooses to half-sing/half-rap most of his lyrics, lending the whole proceedings an uncomfortably amateurish vibe. On tracks like “Creature Comfort,” which in theory deals with serious topics like self-hate and suicide, he sounds like a middle school principal trying to tell the kids that smoking the weed is bad in a hip way. Even the arrangements, which have always been the strongest points of Arcade Fire’s prior albums, sound tired. Gone is the baroque-pop sweep of “Funeral” and the gorgeous space-disco of “Reflektor.” Instead, the tracks here sound mostly like bad ABBA pastiches and white person reggae. While the last few tracks on the album (especially the David Bowie tribute “Electric Blue” and the new wave-influenced “Put Your Money on Me”) are at least prettier than the rest, “Everything Now” as a whole is stylistically confused and ineffective.

Most of all, the Arcade Fire of “Everything Now” sounds old. Not just old in the literal sense — the band has been around for more than fifteen years, but plenty of groups manage to make albums that don’t sound quite as fogeyish as this a decade and half or more into their careers. No, “Everything Now” sounds old precisely because of the subject matter it wants to tackle. Arcade Fire decided to make an album about technology and cultural experiences that they don’t seem to fully understand, and it shows. It’s possible to make a great Indie Rock album after age 35 — Sleater-Kinney’s “No Cities To Love” and Dinosaur Jr.’s entire post-2007 output certainly speak to this — and it’s possible to make interesting pop music about the modern technological landscape (just go look at Poppy’s YouTube page). It may be possible to do both at the same time. However, “Everything Now” fails on both counts.

 

Contact Nick Burns at njburns ‘at’ stanford.edu and Jacob Kuppermann at jkupperm ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Jacob Kuppermann

Jacob Kuppermann writes about music for the Arts & Life Section of the Stanford Daily. He is currently undecided, both in regards to his major and towards the world as a whole, but enjoys biology, history, playing guitar & bass, and thinking about the Chainsmokers.