I’m sure the irony of Arcade Fire’s opus on commercialism being their most commercial record was intentional. That just doesn’t make it clever. Ultimately, the most lasting and successful criticisms are couched in enduring forms. That’s what makes Neon Bible such a magnificent treatise on religion in the post-millennium. Besides Win Butler’s profoundly insightful lyrics, Neon Bible is sonically timeless. It both incorporates and subverts contemporary musical trends. Arcade Fire used to understand how potent this aural subterfuge could be and produced a trilogy of classic records in this style. Unfortunately, their fifth studio LP, Everything Now, is simply disposable; and not in a way that reveals any profound truths or subverts any social preconceptions.
The opening moments of Everything Now proceed solidly enough. The titular track apes ABBA to spectacular effect. The twinkling piano lines and call-and-response chant is undeniably catchy. And, while the track drags on a bit, Win Butler’s preacherly vocals propel the tune with a fervent and derisive energy.
Likewise, “Creature Comfort” addresses self-harm, illusions of fame, and other sensitive subjects with nuance and care. The grimy synth groove and macabre lyrics contrast well with the lightness of the keytar and vocal melodies. Even the much debated, apocryphal lyric about a young girl contemplating suicide while listening to Arcade Fire’s “first record” is quite chilling in context. It’s not the self-serving anecdote that some have asserted, but rather the horrified reaction of an artist understanding their influence.
After these two bright spots, however, the record takes a deep dive into mediocrity. “Chemistry” and “Peter Pan” both sit firmly in the bottom tier of Arcade Fire’s otherwise illustrious canon. The two versions of “Infinite Content” are an interesting experiment, but ultimately reveal little about social obsession with consumption. Even Regine Chassagne’s track (usually a highlight of any Arcade Fire LP), “Electric Blue”, is thoroughly disappointing. It’s mostly four-minutes of a strange, repetitive falsetto melody.
The tail end of the record recovers with the haunting “Good God Damn” and “Put Your Money on Me”, but these late gems only further highlight the brevity of Everything Now. It’s a short record, made shorter still by the three reprises of the title track, two version of “Infinite Content”, and general lack of quality throughout the middle.
The problem lies in Arcade Fire’s commitment to their new dance-rock sound. It undermines the groups key strengths: expansiveness, earnestness, and emotion (for the record I didn’t mean to make those alliterate). While they are certainly capable of producing rich grooves and catchy melodies, these alone don’t equate to meaningful music.
By comparison, their contemporaries in LCD Soundsystem crafted a form of indie-dance-rock that explored compositional and lyrical ideas in a novel way. Yet, the Montreal indie-collective has yet to rise to this level. At least Everything Now makes Reflektor look better by comparison.