Over a decade ago, Arcade Fire broke out of Montreal as the leading edge to the ‘Canadian Invasion’ of indie-rock with Funeral, which was one of the seminal records of the decade. They followed that up exactly a decade ago with Neon Bible (QRO review), then 2010’s The Suburbs (QRO review) – two other amazing and significant albums that took on their own subjects. Along the way, Arcade Fire became the biggest band in alternative music since Radiohead, winning the Grammy for Best Album, appearing in the season opener of Saturday Night Live, and generally being incredibly successful for an alternative band.
And then came 2013’s Reflektor (QRO review). A distinct sonic shift, it saw the group embrace the dance, electronica, and particularly the disco that is so popular in the mainstream today. It made for a divisive release, amid hipster cries of ‘gotten too successful’ & ‘too mainstream,’ but had excellent songs in an admittedly too-large double-album.
And now comes Everything Now, which will only be more divisive, as the group pushed even further into disco terrain, along with some social commentary that can come off as obvious & heavy-handed.
Constructed to be played on infinite loop, Everything opens with a “(Continued)” version of the title track/second song, and another one is at the end. There are also two different versions of “Infinite Content” (the second being “Infinite_Content”). The ‘Infinite Content’/‘Everything Now’ concept has meaning, but can be overdone. And the song titles are still way less self-indulgently difficult than Bon Iver’s 22, A Million (QRO review)…
But there is a lot of disco. “Everything Now” does it catch-relax, while “Chemistry” tries so hard to be infectious, like the come-on lothario it is sung by, that it feels like it goes on forever, despite only being about three-and-a-half minutes. Meanwhile, the dance elements that were at least original (to Arcade Fire) on Rephlektor are just forgettable now, in the sharp “Peter Pan” and very high “Electric Blue”.
And then there are the lyrics from main man Win Butler. Where he was once poetic and powerful on topics like death on Funeral, God on Neon Bible, and family life on The Suburbs, too often here he’s just heavy-handed. The take on ‘be a celebrity or kill yourself trying’ in “Creature Comfort” feels like someone famous who’s trying to act like he just discovered that he’s famous, and is trying to preach down fame to his many, many fans. It even references a fan that tried to commit bathtub suicide, who “put on our first record,” which instead of being shockingly connecting, just sounds like artistic showing off (and inadvertently points out that they haven’t done anything as good since…). That same fan comes back, now from her point of view, on “Good God Damn”, which isn’t as powerful as it should be, or at least would have been a decade ago.
But there is still some emotional power on Everything, located primarily at the end. “Put Your Money On Me” is ominous and interesting, despite the disco backbeat, while the following penultimate “We Don’t Deserve Love” manages to have non-disco electronics, enhancing its definite sonic power.
And Arcade Fire are skilled enough to pull off electro-disco-dance. Indeed, one can hear how well they do it, while still feeling frustrated that this isn’t what they’re best at, isn’t what they should be doing, isn’t what you want them to be doing. Instead of the second, country version of “Infinite Content”, “Infinite_Content”, both of which are good in their own right, how about an original indie-rock song?
When Arcade Fire put out Rephlektor, it was clearly going to upset some alternative music fans that did not need their biggest band adopting the disco, which is so prevalent these days already (not to mention doing ‘we’re a huge band now and we can do whatever we want’ things like their own special after Saturday Night Live). But that’s gonna be nothing compared to how people feel about Everything Now. The concept, the commentary, going even more disco, even leaving longtime indie imprint Merge for major label Columbia are all going to infuriate not just indie-purists, but a lot of those who fell in love with Funeral.
One should judge a record based on it and it alone, not who’s making it or what they’ve done before, but it feels almost impossible with Everything Now.