Album Review: Arcade Fire, ‘Everything Now’

Written by on August 2, 2017

Title: Everything Now
Artist: Arcade Fire
Record Label: Arcade Fire Music under exclusive license to Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited
Release Date: July 29, 2017

There are two ways to look at this new Arcade Fire album, Everything Now. It can be seen as a total departure from the grand indie rock of the band’s past, a record that sacrifices emotion for danceability and catchiness. But it can also be seen as an inventive concept album, one that uses dance-oriented music to develop the album’s theme.

Whichever side you stand on (and many old-time fans seem to stand on the former), there are a few undeniable differences between Everything Now and the band’s previous work. Most obvious is this album’s heavy dose of synthesizers and electronics, which stand in contrast to the traditional indie rock band setup Arcade Fire used to use. Their last album Reflektor was definitely a step in this direction, but Everything Now is a much larger step. And it’s not just the instruments- the band’s sound is also drifting away from indie rock. At this point, it would be more accurate to call Arcade Fire a disco band than a rock band.

But that’s not inherently a bad thing. The opening/title track, with its ABBA-inspired piano and strings, is arguably the best song on the album. It is instantly catchy and danceable, which is a reflection of the song’s lyrics about modern society’s desire for instant gratification through media consumption. Lead vocalist Win Butler sings “Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time, it’s absurd. And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now.” With streaming and downloading, we have access to unlimited culture whenever we want it. But as these lyrics express, the constant onslaught of media is often more overwhelming than calming. The ability to access all the world’s knowledge doesn’t help us dodge the problems humans have always faced, despite many people’s efforts to do so by numbing themselves with media.

These themes return throughout the album, with several songs exploring the consequences of the so-called “Information Age”. “Creature Comfort,” a standout track, talks about teenagers so desperate for perfection and recognition that the alternative is suicide. “God, make me famous,” Butler sings, “If You can’t, just make it painless.” Presumably these characters are being consumed by media, rather than the other way around. It’s a dark song, but it could have been even darker- and clearer- had the lyrics gone further in-depth.

The album never gets too somber, though, at least not for long stretches. Dance beats are present in almost every track (Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk helped on production), lightening the mood when the lyrics get too gloomy. Whether this is an artistic choice or an appeal for radio play is anybody’s guess, but it seems more likely to be a decision designed to reinforce the album’s themes of instant gratification and consumerism.

A couple songs on Everything Now, however, play right into the consumerism the album otherwise fights against. “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry” are upbeat pop love songs, and while they sound good, they are lyrically mediocre and don’t really add anything to the record. Of course, this could be another example of Arcade Fire’s ironic sense of humor- intentionally putting consumeristic music on an album about the dangers of excessive consumption. You never know.

By the time the last song, “We Don’t Deserve Love,” comes to an end and the album loops back to its beginning, there are a lot of uncertainties about the record and its concept. But one message at least is fairly clear: information, media consumption and wealth can never be substitutes for human connection. We need each other more than ever. Though many longtime fans have initially been disappointed by Everything Now, its complexities, self-awareness and yes, danceability, should serve the album well in the long run.

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