Arcade Fire put style over substance on Everything Now

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Everything Now 

[Columbia Records]

As we are embroiled in the digital age, an increasing number of artists are ruminating about the consequences of this phenomenon. Father John Misty offered a jocular yet persuasive commentary of it on Pure Comedy. Now Arcade Fire play their hand at this theme. To drum up their first release since 2013’s 75-minute epic Reflektor, they posted a series of fake news articles on their website and provided a fake “global media and e-commerce platform”.

The joyous energy of the ABBA-esque title track is at once catchy and irresistible. Win Butler takes a sardonic look at the superabundance of entertainment and information at our fingertips. He urges for this to remain the same, crying out “I can’t live without it”. The gospel-like chants towards the end gives the image of a crowd of people worshiping this sentiment. The track is an ode to our inflating obsession with consumerism.

On “Creature Comfort”, Butler with how some of us are constantly in pursuit or susceptible to feedback. With references of suicide and self-harm, the song has a jarring effect. And it contains the cutting line – “God, make me famous. If you can’t just make it painless”. The internet can engender chimerical aspirations of fame upon young people.

It is ironic that all the while Arcade Fire are touching on a relevant topic, the music on Everything Now conspicuously retro. They give nods to 70’s disco and 80’s pop and offer a bizarre and obnoxious simulacrum of reggae on “Chemistry”. The LP is emblematic of an indie rock band running out of ideas and turning to the past for a solution.

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So when Butler sings “those cool kids stuck in the past”, is there a hint of self-awareness here? Probably. But what is shocking about Everything Now is how uncool the music sounds at some points; the outrageously bad “Chemistry” and the arid “Signs of Life” being striking examples where Arcade Fire come across like an embarrassing father trying to emulate dance moves from 30 years ago.

After the double interlude of “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content”, it is somewhat tricky to take the album seriously in stark contrast to a record like Neon Bible which, some would say, had an overbearing solemnity to it.

The silliness dissipates however when the startling, synth-infused jam “Electric Blue” comes around. Régine Chassagne graces this number with her shrill voice which gets lost in a gallimaufry of sounds in the coda, capturing the alienation of the internet age. Confusion and desolation is rife here. We are striving for everything but its overload is making us dizzy.

It’s not like there’s a magical turnaround in the closing tracks. More so that they are an escape from passé madness of what has come before. A certain level of decency is found in the largo “We Don’t Deserve Love” which could be a cousin of “Suburban War”. Its chorus and melody are endearing – like the Arcade Fire of old but not up to the standard of their earlier work.

And that sums up this record. It’s a flashy specimen and it’s unlikely that will ever cease trying to create a grandiose odyssey with each release. On this occasion it backfires, with a number of glaring blemishes that hinder it from being anywhere near the strength of their previous four records. It’s not necessarily a disaster but out of the gazillions of albums available at this instance, you could find several better ones.