What I’m Listening To – “Everything Now” by Arcade Fire

From what I’ve read, the reviews for Arcade Fire’s fifth album Everything Now are mostly mixed. Some critics enjoy how Everything Now finds the Canadian alt-rock group further embracing the funk-tinged electro-groove they first starting leaning into on 2013’s Reflektor while others are rather repulsed by how the album seems to rely more on superficial sheen than it does musical depth.

I can’t argue with the naysayers who have described Everything Now as Arcade Fire’s most forgettable effort to date — my opinion may change as I listen to the record more, but, as of this moment, I don’t think it ranks up there with the raw, brooding Reflektor or the anthemic angst of The Suburbs or Neon Bible

The first time that I listened to these previous albums, I was left with a feeling of “Holy shit! Arcade Fire!” After listening to Everything Now, I was left with a feeling of “Okay! Arcade Fire.”

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy Everything Now. I was infatuated with the title track when it was released as the first single and I grew to enjoy the cynical and hypnotic second single, “Creature Comfort.” As for the rest of the tracks, I really like the thrashy wordplay of “Infinite Content” and the catchy despair of “We Don’t Deserve Love.” Although they are somewhat unremarkable, I have generally favorable feelings of all the other tracks.

In fact, I think that critics who claim that Everything Now is unsatisfying or ineffective are missing the point. If anything, I think that Everything Now is effective because it isn’t exactly satisfying. What it lacks as an Arcade Fire record is more telling than what it includes.

It seems to me that Arcade Fire cranked up the pop-sensibilities and accessibility not to join the mainstream, but to mock it. Disappointed fans have called Everything Now‘s songwriting shallow and repetitive. They’re upset by the apparent lack of substance. Some of the more dramatic folks see this as the group’s blatant attempt to appeal to wider audiences and “sell out.”

And they’re right–“Arcade Fire” did sell out: just look at the back of the physical album case that depicts the track listing as a series of brands and companies that “Arcade Fire” has “partnered with.” Or check out the liner notes that come with the physical copy — it’s a flyer for all the “products” that share their names with the songs.

The album artwork alone should be enough to tip off careful fans that what follows should not be taken on the surface level. On the album’s cover, we see a neon sign that reads “EVERYTHING NOW” adorned to a billboard that perfectly covers the scenic mountain range behind it. Before we even listen to the music, Arcade Fire is suggesting that we’re not getting actual beauty and grandeur; instead, we’re blind to the honest-to-God mountains and getting “EVERYTHING NOW” which, we’re lead to believe, is just as good!

The space between the billboard and the distant mountains is where Everything Now lives and explores. It’s another piece of media in the never-ending sea of music, movies, TV, video games and news that we all battle to stay afloat in and it’s promising us “EVERYTHING” delivered “NOW.” We inevitably get our hopes up — we feel the tinge of excitement we get when we’re about to consume a new, hyped-up product or piece of media that swears to fulfill all our desires — and when that item (say a new Arcade Fire record) fails to meet our towering expectations, we are disappointed.

Not only are we disappointed, we feel betrayed! How could Arcade Fire do this!? Were they lobotomized? Were they brainwashed by their corporate overlords?

No. The Arcade Fire that we admire and adore is standing behind that billboard with, I suspect, quite a few tongues in cheeks.

You believed in Everything Now. You can’t believe in Everything Now.

Are the lyrics “Infinite Content / Infinite Content / We’re infinitely content” kind of obvious and repetitive? Yes. Is a majority of the mainstream media that we consume on a daily basis obvious and repetitive? Yes.

Is Win Butler celebrating the individuals who reside in Everything Now‘s world by belting out their stories and perspectives?  Yes, but only to show how broken and flawed they are.

Is a song rooted in a modernized allusion to “Peter Pan” a cliche? Just ask all of these recent songs. If that doesn’t convince you that referencing Peter Pan is stale, feel free to look at the comprehensive list of adaptations and remakes of the story of Peter Pan. 

Is Everything Now stupid and hollow at points? Yes, but you have to admit that it sounds familiar.

***

At its best, I think Everything Now is a collection of palatable songs that are kept small in order to serve the album’s greater statement: proving how small and inauthentic so much of contemporary entertainment and life is.

At its worst, I think this might be Arcade Fire’s equivalent of U2’s Pop — if we take Reflektor to be akin to U2’s triumphant Achtung Baby, then we can see Everything Now as expanding on its predecessor’s fresh themes and sounds, all while serving them up with a little too much irony.  It’s an ambitious, solid album that is hurt by the tall expectations of knowing that it was created by a truly innovative, outstanding group of musicians.

 

Image via Spin

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