Four years after Reflektor, Arcade Fire brings out their highly-anticipated fifth album, everything now.
Upon first listen, it was glaringly obvious that Arcade Fire chose to return to a familiar sound. As a longtime fan, this was a comforting relief. Of course, it’s important for a band to mature and evolve over the years. But we’re not exactly expecting Radiohead when we tune into Arcade Fire.
I’m a firm believer of the classic adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Lucky for Arcade Fire, there’s nothing “broke” about their sound. From start to finish, the Everything Now was impressively cohesive through my first listen.
Overall, Arcade Fire reprises its classic sound without making it seem stale. In relation to previous works, Everything Now comes across as a mellowed-out lovechild of Neon Bible and The Suburbs.
How It Sounds
Simple, driving melodies take the lead as Win Butler‘s emphatic singing voice conveys the lyrics in a chant-like hum. Backing vocalist Régine Chassagne, a fantastic singer in her own right, contributes an ethereal element to many of the tracks. Once more, kick drums feature prominently throughout the album, giving it plenty of sing-along appeal.
Despite significant contributions from Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk on production, the album lacks any overt influences from house or funk music. In fact, “Electric Blue” is the only track that prominently features synthesizers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In an indie scene dominated by synth pop and future funk, it’s probably a good idea to let bands like CHVRCHES and Chromeo take those reins.
As far as individual tracks, there are several standouts even though nothing in particular leaps out immediately. “Everything Now”, “Electric Blue”, and “We Don’t Deserve Love” are memorable and will certainly make listeners go back for more listens.
Admittedly, it’s a little disappointing that it lacks powerful anthems like “Rebellion (Lies)” off debut album Funeral. Nor is there the venom and bitterness found in tracks such as “We Exist” off Reflektor. But the band makes up for it by improving the overall quality of all the tracks. It truly is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, and I felt zero impulse to skip anything. Rest assured, there are no forgettable fillers here.
One major gripe: I wanted more leading roles from Régine Chassagne. Over the course of Arcade Fire‘s career, she’s more than proven her mettle as a spectacular vocalist with past tracks such as “Haiti” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”.
In many of Arcade Fire‘s songs, the band aims to make some kind of social commentary, often with a critical lens on contemporary trends. Some of the commentary is quite poignant, but at other points, they sound like curmudgeons.
“Everything Now”, for example, takes aim at the culture of instant gratification and binge consumption. The critique, although not inaccurate, seems to meander to a dead end without much of a grander message or a resolution. Nevertheless, it’s still really damn catchy.
Another standout track, “Electric Blue”, features leading vocals from Régine Chassagne. The theme may appear simple at face value – ostensibly, it describes a dying relationship from the singer’s perspective. However, the subtext implies a sense of anxiety about living up to expectations in the music world.
It’s a remarkably sobering sense of self-awareness, one that comes up again in “Creature Comfort.” The track itself sounds upbeat…until you listen to the lyrics. It characterizes fame as a quick fix for body image issues and insecurity.
It also makes startling references to the romanticism of self-harm, going as far as painting an ominous scene of a woman filling up a bathtub while playing the band’s debut album Funeral. Often, music plays a restorative role in a listener’s outlook, but this sobering revelation is a dark confession about the unintended effects of their first record.
Most surprising about Everything Now‘s lyricism is the lack of overt political messaging. After all, the year is 2017 and we live in some of the most interesting times in recent memory. In the past, Arcade Fire‘s sophomore album Neon Bible levied some harsh criticisms towards George W. Bush and the Iraq War. In this latest album, there are little to no references to the current political environment.
Perhaps this was a deliberate choice in terms of artistic direction. Rather than delve into world events, the band chose to aim the critical lens inwards in a surprisingly introspective album.
Arcade Fire albums need several rounds before the listener can warm up to it. The circular continuity makes it easier to listen to the album on repeat. By the time I hit my third listen, I really started getting into it. I found myself dancing in my apartment, to the amusement of my roommate (and the annoyance of my cat). In fact, as I write this review, I’m already on my 8th listen.
As I scrolled through Metacritic to see what my peers had to say, I noticed that many jumped on the opportunity to lambaste Everything Now for a perceived lack of originality and uninspired lyricism.
What was that saying from The Dark Knight? “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” For some, Arcade Fire lived long enough to see themselves become the villains of indie rock. It’s an unfortunate trope in the realm of music critics – an indie band becomes highly successful, and in doing so, loses its soul and authenticity.
Perhaps it comes from an unrealistic expectation that every new record from a band must somehow introduce an entirely new sound. Perhaps it also comes from a pervasive attitude of cynicism towards any form of commercialization.
Ultimately, what we have with Everything Now is a self-aware, introspective, slow burn. Those wanting the bellowing, heart-on-his-sleeve passion of Win Butler can look to older works such as Funeral. Those seeking more biting societal commentary can look to Reflektor. Everything Now sounds good, and that’s its greatest strength.
Overall, it’s a relief that Arcade Fire returns to a familiar, albeit more mellow sound. Without resorting to arbitrary numbers or rating systems, I’d call Everything Now a “solid” release by Arcade Fire, and a “solid” addition to this 2017’s indie rock anthology.
Feature image courtesy of Arcade Fire.