With their 2013 release, Reflektor, the Montreal rock band went under a false moniker in the lead-up to the release, played secret shows with elaborate masks, and then released the album that changed the way not only their music but the genre of indie rock could be considered, exploring sounds all over the map. The process, four years later, for Everything Now was no less long-winded.
The band created a false website, which looked like some 1990s hack job, sent out Tweets from their band's account engaging in discussions of the fake media and fake news, including getting involved with KFC's Twitter account, creating their own false products, and releasing a "Stereoyum" review of the album prior to its debut. This was all supposedly in an attempt to highlight the major criticism that Everything Now explores, a common theme in Arcade Fire's work over the past four years: "global media and e-commerce platform[s]." However, criticism only works when you actually have something to say about what you're talking about – not just by pointing out facts.
Throughout Everything Now, you will hear the Arcade Fire you were probably intrigued by on albums 1-4, the kind of group that can present worldly questions in a way that can also make you get up and dance the frustrations away. Musically, some of that remains, but the work that this fifth album does to take the band to any sort of new heights is minimal.
The symmetrical layout of the album, beginning and ending with versions of the title track, is the place where you'll see some new strengths from the band. The synthesizers and steady drums mold perfectly into one another, and front man Win Butler's detached vocals leading into chaos and contemplation (depending on what end of the album you're listening to) feel like a stroke of genius. It seems as if they're creating the music equivalent of David, a total creative game changer.
That dream quickly shatters as you dig deeper into the album and find yourself inundated with booming dance beats, sterile and repetitive lyrics, and an overall sensation of confusion as to what it is exactly that you're listening to – the new album from a popular indie rock band, or the over produced soundtrack to a sci-fi film?
Quickly, songs become desensitized, and after enough of this attitude from Butler on coarsely delivering the lyrics, too tiresome to listen. "Creature Comfort" declares angsty ideas about the youth of today, but when you discover it's really a track about suicide, you can't help but cringe at the callous tone of delivery. Skip forward and things don't improve. "Peter Pan" again explores death, but on a surface level, often sounding more like a demo version than a finished product.
"Chemistry" is hollow all around. With a reggae-esque theme throughout (a choice that could be interesting but is never fully explored), Butler repeatedly sings about the idea of having chemistry with someone that might be cute if it were a song written about middle schoolers in science class. However, like much of the content on this album, it falls flat, and meaningless if you take the track "We Don't Deserve Love" and its six minutes later in the album seriously. It's hard to determine if the juxtaposition here is intentional, or if like many of the other decisions, it's a little half-baked.
Arguably, the album's "thesis," if you will, "Infinite Content" and its continuing track, should not be the shortest and seemingly least substantial, but they are, indeed, just that. It further proves the inability to take Arcade Fire's arguments seriously, and therefore all of Everything Now becomes more of a nice idea than a body of work.
Perhaps the issue with trying to make comments on an over-saturated, technologically and corporately dependent society is that you it's hard to be taken seriously when you're playing right into this mentality, too. After all, Arcade Fire is promoting this record by going on an arena tour, playing to large, mind numbed crowds in venues named after some of the troublemaking companies the band seems to be wagging their fingers at. It only speaks to the problem with the album in its entirety: if you're going to make a statement, make it, but build on it to make it seem earnest. Unfortunately, Everything Now's forty-seven minutes fail to bring us there.
Everything Now is available everywhere on Sony Music now.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. Follow her on Twitter.