Seems like hating on Arcade Fire’s new record has become the cool thing to do. But is it really that bad? Ever since Pitchfork rated fifth album Everything Now a lowly 5.6/10, the wolves have been out, and in the space of a week the album’s score on review aggregate website Metacritic dropped from 79/100 to just 68/100.
But let’s not forget that prior to that NME had rated it a full five stars and Rolling Stone had issued a four-star review. The truth is somewhere in between, and even a below par Arcade Fire album is still a damn fine reason to turn up the stereo.
A concept record tackling consumerism, over-stimulation and our need for Everything Now, all of the time, Arcade Fire are an IMPORTANT band writing IMPORTANT music. If their message wasn’t timely it wouldn’t work, but if it doesn’t ring bells around our square-eyed, consumerist culture and how that’s affecting the general mental health of society, you’re probably not paying attention. At its most irresistible Everything Now will have your brain ticking and your toes tapping, just like their best work.
Opening with the call-to-arms title track, frontman Win Butler sets the tone: “Every inch of space in your head, is filled up with the things that you read”. Everything Now sports two reprises bookending the album, much in the way their Grammy winner The Suburbs presented its argument. In between, tracks such as second single Creature Comfort emphasise the point, bitingly: “God, make me famous; if you can’t, just make it painless”.
Musically, there’s a tip of the hat to Blondie and Talking Heads in disco-punk and new wave highlight Infinite Content, while ABBA is another touchstone on the title track and Put Your Money on Me. The latter features the most overt collaboration with producer Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, whose touch is generally more subtle than LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy’s on last album Reflektor. Pulp’s Steve Mackey is also listed as a key collaborator, while Creature Comfort‘s roaring synth comes care of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow.
The continuing dub reggae influence carried over from Reflektor‘s Flashbulb Eyes fares less well. Five tracks in, Peter Pan and Chemistry throw the album off track right when it needs a solidifying Normal Person or Power Out to anchor the record. Later, Good God, Damn is as close to a throwaway b-side as Arcade Fire have ever committed to an LP.
It all lands Everything Now somewhere in-between The Suburbs and Reflektor, without quite reaching the heights of either. It has the former’s catchy songwriting and cohesive theme without achieving its highs or consistency, and follows the latter’s dancefloor-leaning disco and reggae tropes, albeit with a 70s pulse.
Importantly, however, it’s short and sweet for an Arcade Fire record. Never outstaying its welcome means it doesn’t contradict its scathing social commentary. For a band famous for being overbloated, it’s an admirable feat.
Peaking on the penultimate, six and a half minute ballad We Don’t Deserve Love ensures things end on a high as well as with perspective. Like the best bits of the album it showcases the chemistry between Bulter and wife/ co-vocalist Régine Chassagne as they duet to the sound of warbling synths on a song that could soundtrack the end of days.
More fun but less consistent and without the soaring highs of previous Arcade Fire albums, Everything Now nonetheless is the work of a band whose creativity is boundless. I don’t expect this marks the end of their impossibly good run any more than I’d be surprised if they return with their best album next – their ability to surprise and regenerate is unlike any other band on the planet, and Everything Now is the exciting new chapter.