Arcade Fire’s lack of subtlety is paradoxically one of the most appealing things about them. There are precious few bands today who can balance musical artistry with grandiose appeals to unity and earnest emotional connection. Yet while their music has always been of a top quality, over time frontman Win Butler’s lyrics have shown more and more of a tendency to lean into the saccharine. Seemingly to counteract this, Arcade Fire have decided to become pioneers of postmodern satire in this album campaign, probably to add an extra dimension of humour to their rather self-serious image. Yet even the band’s jokes come across as a grand statement about capitalism and consumerism; not an unworthy concept for a record to discuss, but not something the band explores with enough depth or genuine humour on Everything Now to warrant the intense focus. It is this kind of inconsistency between interesting ideas and flawed execution that plagues the entire record.
Everything Now starts off strong and ends in similar fashion, but in between there is the most almighty trough of the band’s entire career. Starting with the positives, the two lead singles ‘Everything Now’ and ‘Creature Comfort’ are both fantastic. ‘Everything Now’ has infectious, ABBA aping enthusiasm and is likely to be the one of the biggest hits of the band’s career, while ‘Creature Comfort’s’ driving bass line and anthemic chorus sound refreshingly different to anything they’ve recorded before. At the tail end there’s ‘Put Your Money On Me,’ which unfurls slowly, allowing itself room to breathe, a quality most of the album does not possess. The standout track is arguably the aching ballad ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ that rounds off proceedings, a poignant, Springsteen-inspired cut underpinned by a moaning synth, inspired guitar and piano flourishes that build to a euphoric climax.
When it’s good, its really good, yet consistency is a massive issue here. ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Chemistry’ are both abysmal, with the former’s ill-fitting rumbly bass and weird, choppy beat so messy and cluttered it’s barely listenable and the latter’s ska-influenced verse and hard rock chorus possessing none of the titular ‘Chemistry’ Butler sings about. Fortunately it gets better after that. ‘Infinite Content’ is an exciting little punk jam with a catchy refrain of “infinite content, infinite content, we’re infinitely content,” yet the 1 minute and 30 seconds run time means it flies by before its had a chance to really impact, and its subsequent reprisal track is basically a cover of their earlier song ‘The Suburbs.’
‘Signs of Life’s’ funky, horn-led groove is let down by Butler’s awful semi-rapping, making lyrics like “love is hard, sex is easy” sound cringingly earnest, and despite Regine Chassange’s previously accomplished singing on past albums, the less said about her wailing vocal on ‘Electric Blue’ the better. Moments of greatness and and massive blunders encircle each other on this album, often even within the same song.
That’s the main issue with Everything Now, that it fails to find the balance between experimentation and genuine sonic appeal. Reflektor mastered this with aplomb, finding space in its lengthy songs to accommodate the sheer vastness and complexity of Arcade Fire’s sound, but by attempting to condense into short pop songs the band sacrifice their innate appeal in a jumble of instruments. In a career that’s been high after high, the band’s constant shifting of identity is sadly more of a hindrance than an advantage here. As Butler sings in ‘Creature Comfort,’ “on and on I don’t know what I want.” Here’s hoping they find out soon.