It’s easy to forget that Arcade Fire was born sounding like an Elephant Six band that worshipped Bruce Springsteen instead of the Beatles. Everything nimble or hesitant has long lain dormant in their sound — replaced by confidence and self-importance. What is Arcade Fire in 2017? It’s clear what they aren’t. They aren’t compelling; they aren’t bombastic. They haven’t lost any of their urgency or energy; they just lost all of their innocence.
The record begins in full motion perpetrated by the record’s final track. The three part “Everything Now” is Arcade Fire at their poppiest, dividing fans and comment sections since its arrival in June. A steady beat and catchy strings bring a confident but plain opening. If the goal is to sound like Abba, they have succeeded wildly, if the goal is to sound like late career average U2, they have also succeeded. The “Everything reminds me of everything” concept is fine, I guess, but when an everyday idea is treated like a game-changer cue the eye rolls.
The lyrics are painful throughout Everything Now‘s 47-minute runtime. Each line sings like a Facebook status you wouldn’t push like on. Every word is editable; every idea is broadened for maximum festival impact. But then, that’s how you make money in music these days. “You spend your life waiting in line; you find it hard to define,” Win sings. Who is talking? The “cool kids” from the opening line? Who is you? If vague was the only miss, it could work, but vague plus derivative plus boring makes you wish you could mute the vocal track. By 4:00 it takes self-control not to press the skip button; perhaps because there is infinite content out there that is an improvement on this material.
Other samples of this lyrical buffoonery abound. From “Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan, take my hand” to “A Terrible song is on the radio, baby what else is new.” Win Butler yells “get off my lawn” could have worked as a title. Yet Arcade Fire is not old enough for this work as late career orthodoxy nor suave enough to cook these observations into delicious bites.
“Signs of Life” sounds like a Reflektor leftover. Butler comes up short lyrically, melodically and structurally. Like a college kid on their third major, the song can’t decide if it wants to be a rhythmic banger like the successes on Reflektor or something else entirely. Maybe he should have decided to push the delete button. When the best part of a song is a two-note repeating tuba section, it might be time to reconsider?
With a gorgeous video and pulsing electro beat, “Creature Comfort” is certainly the most singable, although the meta commentary on a girl attempting suicide while listening to Funeral comes off as lacking care as opposed to some Community-esque self-commentary. The backing vocals achieve their goal, though. That is if their goal is to sound like a monotone broken cafeteria bell. And that’s easily the best song.
“Chemistry” is the song that the writers are piling on. Add this review to the pile; it’s a painful misfire. The lyrics couldn’t receive a passing grade in a middle school poetry class, but somehow it’s the weak beat that is the worst part. At the outro, Win croons “Gonna sing it again”. Maybe he should have said he would sing it ten more times because he does. Each one is another Sharpie circle around the weak lyricism.
Does it elude this band that their greatest moment had no lyrics? The wordless chorus of “Wake Up” soared. On Everything Now it would be a vehicle for a ham-fisted stab at consumerism or millennial attention span. It’s both ironic and confusing that a record that takes aim so clearly at falling attention spans is so incapable of keeping the listeners engaged. Any long time Arcade Fire fan that loves this record is showing that the lyrics haven’t been part of their fandom.
It isn’t even that the record is “bad”. “Bad” records get re-evaluated after a decade and can turn out awesome (Pinkerton), or boundary pushing (Zaireeka), or better than we remember (Adore). This record is worse. Everything Now isn’t bad, it’s dull. Are the songs weak because they are part of how mindless content gets consumed at a rapid rate with no regard for its quality? Fitting so snuggly into its own negative line of fire you can almost believe it’s intentional. Was the rollout a precursor for an Andy Kaufman exit ramp? Anything inadequate is intentionally proving its own message? I don’t buy it.
“Infinite Content” and its twin sequel are two under two-minute twin songs built on witty wordplay that wears thin quickly. One of the two halves is a punk banger in the line of “Month of May”, and one is a Nashville soft rocker reminding you that every band will eventually make a substandard record. With all the cringe-inducing lyricism, it’s comical that the one moment of lyrical success is repeated eight times in less than four minutes. The line “all your money is already spent on it” shows a misunderstanding of what is the main loss of endless entertainment. What’s being sacrificed is time, not money. No one goes broke because they have a Netflix and Hulu account. A better argument would be “all your time is already spent on it”.
Everything Now is streaming on Apple Music, it is streaming on Spotify, it is for sale on Amazon. If they are truly taking a stand against infinite content why not take an actual, specific stand attached to the action. Perhaps reward patient, repeated listening by releasing physical copies only? Maybe they didn’t because their argument is round, weak and bland. Every listen makes the painful album roll out even less arousing.
Butler paints content consumption as a trough of endless slop. The picture doesn’t work, as the content we over-consume isn’t weak or mass produced, rather, there isn’t enough time to consume all of the high-quality content that is made. They make a stab, but miss because the target is a mirage.
A record on wasting time would have been preferable. Perhaps with commercials in between each track that corporations paid for, then Arcade Fire comes out and says they never cashed the checks. That would be performance art. They went far with the promo campaign, but not far enough to be compelling, just far enough to be annoying. The concept of the record is solid, but the execution is lacking. Most concept records end up being remembered for their songs rather than their storyline anyway.
“Put Your Money on Me” is a disco-lite pop song, the best on the record, but it’s too little, too late. In fact, the three-song stretch to close the record is the strongest, if you are still awake and haven’t looked back at the infinite content stream and picked a different record. It’s tempting; there are so many choices.