“We’ve all got this “literary” fiction that simply monotones that we’re all becoming less and less human…and we all buy the books and go like “Golly, what a mordantly effective commentary on contemporary materialism!” But we already “know” U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines.” – David Foster Wallace to Larry McCaffrey
How about “Infinite content/We’re infinitely content”?
Arcade Fire have never sounded so shallow, tired or cynical. It’s been coming for a while – their three most recent albums have all featured a track or two dedicated almost solely to Win bitching about the youth – but it’s never seemed so fatal.
The relentless ‘message’-ness and moralising of Everything Now – it’s about how we have everything now and infinite content has not made us happier – makes for pretty poor company most of the time, made worse by a smug sense of superiority and half-baked experimentation.
If it all sounds terrible that’s because this album feels like it’s been coming for a while, and now it’s here there’s something slightly sickening about the inevitability of it all.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to recommend here, or that Arcade Fire are beyond hope or redemption. The title track is an anthem that, forced though it may be (that crowd chant doesn’t feel particularly earned), pulses along and has a way of lodging itself deep in the mind.
Peter Pan is a generally good track, as filler goes, let down only by a bridge section that plainly isn’t as bold or brilliant as the band seem to think.
Creature Comfort is the clear standout – a song on which the band manage to articulate an important message with passion and power, and tap into a disco aesthetic in a way that doesn’t seem tacked on.
The album’s closing tracks feature their most straightforward, structured, well-constructed songs. Win drops the falsetto that has become his go-to mode, regardless of how effective it is, and the wonderful variety and dynamism that defines this great band returns to the fore.
But then the album ends. And you’re left with one great song and three good ones, plus some others ranging from decent to damn near all time lows. And you’re left with an album that, with its intros and outros and running themes, strives to seem coherent and complete, but is ultimately unsatisfying and inessential.
This is an Arcade Fire album that, uniquely in their canon, generates no surprises, no sense of scale or importance. It seems convinced it has both, but it peddles ideas that are little more than observations – ones that are unengagingly expressed and almost singularly vapid.
Listening back to previous albums, Everything Now’s looseness and insignificance is striking:
The Suburbs is nostalgia distilled, all long roads and dystopian housing developments.
Neon Bible is an album that, listening now, holds an apocalyptic dread that makes tracks like Windowsill seem hauntingly prescient.
Funeral is explosive and cathartic, an album that is sublimely structured.
Reflektor is more messy, and an indicator for Everything Now, but it had ambition and spectacle to burn.
Everything Now has nothing to truly define it, save a too-clever-by-half not-marketing marketing campaign. It feels lazy, stripped of something essential to pull it together. If Reflektor was a band throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks, Everything Now is a limp toss and a slow slide down the brickwork.
The ironic refrain that we have infinite content and are infinitely content is a piece of semi-clever wordplay that expresses a universal truth of the modern age, but here it is extended across two songs, repeated mantra-like into mush.
It’s an indicator for the tiredness and laziness of the album, one that seems so sure of itself that the band have kicked up their feet and decided to throw something together and just play about with genres.
Efforts like Chemistry aren’t Arcade Fire doing Arcade Fire’s ska, it’s just Arcade Fire doing ska. The gesture is greater than the content, and the band seem driven by imitation rather than inspiration.
The album is perhaps most disappointing because it isn’t a total wipeout. There are gems enough here to make desperately disappointing the realisation that, as Everything Now plays for the third and final time, this is it – Arcade Fire have released their album.
This was all it was. Those four songs you might come back to, but probably won’t.
See you in three years.