I’ve always been a firm believer that in order to really appreciate an album you need to listen to it 3 times. The first time you listen to it you’re weighing it against your own expectations of what it should sound like. The second listen is really the first time you’re hearing the album as intended, free from the expectations you held, no longer listening based on what it should sound like but what it actually does sound like. And the third listen is when the album starts to reveal itself, when the songs that didn’t immediately grab you begin to take hold.
This was definitely the process I needed to take listening to the new Arcade Fire album Everything Now. Had this review been written based on just the first listen, weighed down by the echoes of their previous efforts, then it would have been quite scathing and filled with disappointment (not unlike many other reviews you may have come across).
But thankfully, I persevered.
Not that it’s an album you need to slog through to appreciate, it’s just that Everything Now feels like quite a departure from the Arcade Fire of even a few years back. Upon first listen, it does come up short. But it is an album worth sticking with as it slowly reveals itself.
Arcade Fire has always enjoyed defying convention and categorization. From their tour de force 2004 debut Funeral through to the overblown epic epicness of 2013’s Reflecktor, they’ve always been about boundless musical horizons. They’ve genre hopped and skipped along to their merry band of own drummers with each release. In the process, it seems they’ve gone from the indie-darlings of the music press to—with this release—the backlash whose time has come.
Everything Now as an album wants to challenge your expectations. If you’re expecting a return to the achingly honest insights of Funeral or the Grammy winning tones of The Suburbs (2010), you will be disappointed. The Arcade Fire of those albums is perhaps not gone, but they’re definitely off somewhere else. This Arcade Fire is happier playing disco-downers.
Thematically the album deals with the ubiquity of media and content in our lives. The endless scrolling feeds, our “on demand” lifestyle, and the fleeting moments of living before our next notification or anticipated like. The knock-on effect of course is an empty existence of diminishing returns.
And those themes definitely come through from the opening glitch-ethereal intro “Everything Now (continued)”—bookended on the album with an extended reprise to create a sonic feedback loop—through to the disco onslaught of the titular track complete with ABBA inspired melody and arrangement, to the modern teen angst struggles of “Creature Comfort” where a generation lives for being insta-famous or contemplates the alternative of a hopefully “painless” escape through suicide.
The latter track is a case of things working musically and thematically. Inspired (it would appear) by a fan’s attempted suicide using Funeral as her swan song, it strikes a surprisingly hopeful tone as Win Butler opines a take on the “things do get better” idiom imploring, “Well, if you’re not sure, better safe than sorry.” For those trapped in the darkness of suicidal thoughts, he begs them to look beyond the darkness and recognize there is beauty to be found as he sings, “Born in a diamond mine / It’s all around you but you can’t see it.”
Similarly, both “Signs of Life” (a Talking Heads-esque funk groove that laments the isolating escapism of nightly club-hopping and empty hook-ups) and “Good God Damn” (strolling with a quiet confidence while offering salvation in a callback counter-plays against the suicidal tendencies of “Creature Comfort”) give the album some depth.
Sadly though, a four-track midpoint highlights the unevenness of the album. The defining low points of the cringe-worthy “Peter Pan” and embarrassing reggae-dub inspired “Chemistry” will have you wondering what you ever did to Arcade Fire to deserve this. Similarly the “Infinite Content” double play that features an urgent indie-punk take followed by a country inspired retelling that borrows heavily from Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” has the album meandering and losing focus.
And that’s part of the problem. As the album progresses, you’re not sure if Arcade Fire are grappling with genre or grasping at straws. Quite often you get an overwhelming sense of “Ooops, my influences are showing” as they crib from Bowie, Beck, Goldfrapp, ABBA, Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder.
It’s the final two tracks that truly redeem the album. “Put Your Money On Me” is a brooding hypnotic neo-pop treat while “We Don’t Deserve Love” showcases some real songwriting craft and artistry in a dreamscape of redemption and reconciliation.
While Everything Now is not the perfect album, and not without its downfalls, it is an album worth exploring and giving sufficient time to discover. There will be songs that have you rushing to push the fast forward (or delete) button, but equally there are songs worthy of repeat and those tip the balance of the album in its favor. Ultimately, Everything Now is Arcade Fire trying on something new, standing in the mirror and waiting for the feedback.
Notable Tracks: “Creature Comfort” | “Good God Damn” | “Put Your Money On Me” | “We Don’t Deserve Love”