Arcade Fire are no strangers to ambitious projects. In fact, the Canadian rock group practically built their careers off of ambition. Their monumental 2004 debut, “Funeral,” essentially carved out the path for modern indie rock with its complex structure, varied instrumentation, and passionate songwriting. The band carried acclaim and consistency through their next couple records, “Neon Bible” and “The Suburbs” the latter taking a surprise Album of the Year win at the Grammies.
With “Reflektor” in 2013, Arcade Fire veered in an obscure, polarizing direction. The nearly 90 minute opus reflected (pun intended) on societal isolation in the age of technology with a fascinating, occasionally baffling, kaleidoscope of electronica-framed genres. Though it holds little replay value, and is overall quite bloated, “Reflektor” at least holds to a well-structured theme, a creative sound, and solid songwriting. “Everything Now,” the band’s latest record, can make none of these claims.
Arcade Fire is no stranger to guerilla marketing; they invented a fake band in the lead up to “Reflektor.” But the promos for “Everything Now” featuring a fake ad for Arcade Fire fidget spinners, and a purposefully douchey dress code for their shows, bordered on the insufferable. Father John Misty has proven several times over that an irony-soaked postmodern persona can work. There is a line, however, between endearing and obnoxious, and “Everything Now” not only crosses it, but seems to handspring over and beyond with jubilance.
The record revels in self-indulgent maximalism for its own sake. The opening title track is the back end of a loop that ends the album, straight into another title track of Abba-esque disco pop. The scope of “Everything Now,” the track, is admirable. The composition is even a bit catchy, if lacking in a memorable hook. But the songwriting, in a flaw that plagues the entire record, lacks even the faintest hint of subtlety.
You might say ‘but Aaron, the songs are written that way they on purpose! It’s satire!’ Well, maybe? Regardless, a majority of the songs that make up “Everything Now” feature as much subtlety as a swift punch to the larynx. “Signs of Life” plays like an attempt at encapsulating the seedy, lifeless underbelly of society, but instead comes off as silly and indiscreet, especially with Win Butler of all people trying to sound edgy. “Electric Blue,” a break-up song, is the only track to feature Regime, but drowns her voice in saturating effects, and wastes her talent on a chorus of “na-na-na’s.”
While these tracks simply dwell in the realm of disappointing mediocrity, others lean into straight terrible. In the synth-smothered “Peter Pan,” Butler croons “Be my Wendy., I’ll be your Peter Pan” (I mean, come on). “Chemistry,” the worst song the band has ever recorded, consists of about as much color and substance as a strip of laffy taffy. It’s horn-based, bouncy beat, and ad-nauseum repetition of “you and me, we’ve got chemistry” lingers into excruciating territory. “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content” are the exact same song. The first one is fast and punky, the second is slow and twangy like a country song. The lyrics consist of “infinite content, we’re infinitely content” and that’s it. Twice over. Complete with samples of shopping mall scanners and mall music at the end. So deep.
I don’t enjoy dumping on Arcade Fire as much as it may seem. The group is rife with talent, as has been proven to this point in a discography that is largely misstep-free. But holy shit, the ball was not so much dropped as it was careened into the ground. The semblance of a good record is here, but it’s completely drowned in a message not just, ham-fisted, but ham-armed, and ham-bodied. The nauseatingly corny lyrics are even occasionally overtaken by grotesquely over-the-top instrumentation.
“Everything Now” exists as a prime example of a theme running rampant and out of the band’s control. How much of the music is meant as a social critique on consumerist culture? Are the lyrics bad on purpose? Are the disco-pop instrumentations soulless and synthetic in an ironic way to make a statement? How often is the band actually being self-aware here? What parts need to be taken seriously? What parts as a joke?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. What can be said though, is that “Everything Now” sucks. Unironically.