Words by Eric Gasa
Arcade Fire was a simple band once upon a time. Theirs was the miraculous story of the little-known group that crashed the 2010 Grammys with little more than a whisper; a passionate act that could fill up a stadium with the small emotional gestures of their heartache. Arcade Fire wasn’t just a band, they were a tribe of bleeding hearts hellbent on telling the world their story and we were always there eager to listen in return.
Though it’s trite to disdain a band for moving onto bigger, better things, one can’t help but feel the growing pains on Everything Now; it feels a bit overproduced, static and pale. Win Butler and company made the decision to leave Merge Records for Columbia in May 2017, and with the change listeners can hear a noticeable shift in personality and sound.
In preparation of the album’s release, the band propped up several fake social media accounts and companies to generate pseudo-corporate buzz. Though the entire act was satirical, it’s a little sad to see the band slowly resemble what they’ve always resented.
But press releases aside, Everything Now is solidly orchestrated for the most part. Notes fall into the right place, but many of the songs lack the fiery passion of Funeral or say the Springsteen pride and heartache of The Suburbs.
Though I wouldn’t describe Arcade Fire albums as messy, they are usually vibrant soundscapes filled with deep reverb, starry synths, and fiery guitars. On Everything Now, the guitar lines and percussion sound a bit sterile as if recorded in a vacuum chamber. But this doesn’t stop the band from writing enjoyable songs.
The title-track trots like a cross between The Talking Heads and Paul Simon, sprinkled with a charming Blondie-esque keyboard spread. “Signs of Life” is a robust disco thumper that wouldn’t sound out of place on 2013’s Reflektor.
“Those cool kids stuck in the past/Apartments of cigarette ash,” sings Butler, “Wait outside until it begins.”
But “Creature Comfort” serves as the record’s headliner. It’s another disco romp, but here Butler’s spirit can be heard bleeding through, just like old times. Stomping drums and churning synths urge shoulders to sway while Regine Chassagne’s vocal repeats like a loop. It’s a tantric song that shouts to the rafters.
Whereas Reflektor was nocturnal, nostalgic, and mysterious, this latest release is a bit obvious, predictable, and heavy-handed. Even the title, Everything Now, sounds lifeless, like a channel package from DirecTV. Whether or not this is an ironic inside joke, it almost suggests that a certain boredom has set in with the group.
There are even two songs titled, “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content”, the first being a charging Killers-styled rock opera, while the second is the exact same song but played like a swingy country number.
“Infinite content, infinite content/We’re infinitely content,” Butler sighs. He repeats the verses to spite the mundanity of the digital age but the social critique couldn’t be more flat and null. Especially when listening on Spotify.
“Electric Blue” is another highlight; a quirky electronic piece reminiscent of Robyn. Regine Chassagne has her solo moment on this song in the tradition of “Sprawl II” and “In The Backseat”. On “Electric Blue”, her voice shimmers while a disco ball spins overhead.
At face value, Everything Now is an acceptable album…just maybe not a great Arcade Fire album. Lackluster records generally don’t make or break bands, but for a name as mighty as Arcade Fire’s any pitfall could be a hard one. With another album under contract from Columbia, maybe Win and his band could turn back the clock to 2010.
“We Don’t Deserve Love” closes the album, finding the group coming closer to home. Butler surrounds himself with a playfully crestfallen chorus, twinkly synths, and the interesting pairing of a slide guitar. Regine’s graceful vocal rises between Butler’s to create the great emotional cohesion that first made the band famous over ten years before–maybe ten years too soon.
For a band obsessed with saving the world through music it sounds strange to hear them take the day off.
© July 28, 2017
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