Arcade Fire have been, in my eyes, on the decline for a while now. Following their era-defining indie rock beginnings, the band have been slowly shifting their musical direction towards the sprinklings of disco that cropped up on their first three records. Reflektor saw them testing the waters, but the band’s latest, Everything Now, finds them taking a deep plunge into the genre and drowning in the process.
This in itself isn’t the reason for the decline in quality – in fact, I think it’s a very natural progression for the band and one that, on paper, is much more interesting than some other indie musicians who’ve gone electronic in recent years (see my review of Dirty Projectors 2017 alt-R&B album for more on this).
The problem is that, with the shift in sound, all the spark seems to have gone out of the band. The youthful passion, the anthemic choruses, the excellent songwriting and touching melodies – everything has become codified and blown up a size too big. The band’s early records were intimate and personal, but they felt huge in the way they invited all of their listeners inside them, with chorus vocals equally suited to a bedroom or stadium-size singalong. This new era of the band, by contrast, just feels bloated and uninspired.
Everything Now gets off to a respectable start, though, with its three pre-release singles: the title track, ‘Signs of Life’ and ‘Creature Comfort’. ‘Sings of Life’ features some rather cringey lyrics, and ‘Creature Comfort’ some very shrill and irritating backing vocals, but besides that these songs are fairly groovy and are comparatively bearable.
But the album takes a gigantic nosedive in quality right afterwards. ‘Peter Pan’ is smeared with dreadful, flat and farty synths that sounds like an attempt to make a dub reggae beat, but fall completely flat on their face. ‘Chemistry’ is an equally ill-advised attempt to make some kind of synth funky ska pop song. ‘Electric Blue’ features a return of those horribly shrill backing vocals, except this time they’re front and centre of the song and make it almost unlistenable.
Then there’s ‘Good God Damn’, which is staggeringly devoid of substance, featuring one of the most annoying three-note baselines I’ve heard this year, and the dreary, overlong ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’, whose title becomes more and more prescient the more I subject myself to Everything Now.
Almost every song following track four strikes me as completely devoid of passion or ideas, endlessly repeating melodies, vocals and lyrics that are boring at best and irritating at worst. There is more than a little irony here, given that Everything Now is pitched as a critique of brainless entertainment and repetitive production.
It’s a very shallow critique, and one that doesn’t extend much further than ‘there’s lots of MEDIA, guys…brainwashing!!!11’. But for as much as Everything Now might want you to think it’s on the outside looking in, the album falls prey to the very forces it attempts to critique. Don’t let it fool you: Everything Now is just another pooped out concoction of product-line capitalism, designed to fill stadiums with passionless indie dance songs until the next album cycle rolls around.