During the past few months, there were indications that Arcade Fire was nearing the brink of a 2007-Britney-Spears style meltdown. In addition to developing a tendency to refer to their band in the third person on Twitter, Arcade Fire pulled a series of bizarre promotional stunts, like emailing concertgoers about show dress codes and advertising for nonexistent multi-purpose fidget spinners. None of the maneuvers were particularly funny, but they were forgivable; Arcade Fire has always found purpose in flimsy critiques of pop culture. Even the “premature premature evaluation” of their new album, Everything Now, was an almost-deft jab at Stereogum’s pre-release album reviews and, at the very least, proved they still had their wits about them. But at long last, their figurative head-shaving moment has arrived. Arcade Fire’s steady decline towards senility has finally been consummated by the debut of Everything Now, the band’s worst joke to date.
On Everything Now, Arcade Fire attempts to pull off the grandeur of their inaugural sound with electronic pop instead of alternative rock. While the attempt is not entirely futile should listeners manage to make it to the album’s latter half, (“Electric Blue,” for instance, is a buried gem, a vibrantly funky disco song), enduring the first twenty-five minutes might be.
Listening to any portion of the album is a feat; it requires an iron will to press play after noticing the painfully unnecessary irony of the track sequencing. The first track is titled “Everything_Now (Continued),” despite the fact that there is no song preceding it from which it could possible continue. Contrary to common sense, “Everything Now” is the second track on the album. Perplexing, yes, but not entirely demoralizing.
Until, that is, one sees the album’s last track title: “Everything Now (Continued).”
The album’s musical stylings are almost as baffling as the syntax and punctuation of its song names. There’s the brief and disorienting electronica of “Everything_Now (Continued).” Then there’s “Everything Now,” a song with an infectious, charging tempo but one that is nonetheless forgettable due to its hackneyed exploration of the digital era and predictable progression.
The disappointments continue on the third track, “Signs of Life.” Should Arcade Fire have attempted to replicate the psychedelic-Caribbean fusion they used on Reflektor (2013), the track could have succeeded. Instead, the song lacks intrigue, causing nothing but confusion with slippery lyrical significance and a jolting ‘80’s pulse.
“Creature Comfort” is likewise plagued by an inability to cohesively mesh lyrics and synths. The incongruence between its buzzing mix and grave lyrics— “Some boys hate themselves/ Spend their lives resenting their fathers/ Some girls hate their bodies/ Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback”— is borderline offensive. The hollow, static-ridden dance beats pair poorly with weighty topics likes self-harm and suicide, effectively mocking and commodifying these issues.
It is this insistence on sounding popish while trying to grapple with existential themes that makes Everything Now laughable. “Peter Pan,” for instance, shows Butler coming to terms with his parents’ mortality, but the first lines— “In my dreams you’re dying/ It wakes me up/ I can’t stop crying”— work in direct opposition to the peppy backtracking.
As expendable as “Peter Pan” is, “Chemistry” might be worse, buttressed by a syncopation of such heavy Ringling Bros. influences it could induce hysteria. But if “Chemistry” and its chorus of “Chemistry, baby you and me/ You and me, we’ve got chemistry” is trite, what would that make the latter song’s spine-chillingly horrid anthem on oversaturation in the technological age, “Infinite content/ We’re infinitely content?”
Arcade Fire was not always a joke, despite what indie-hating poptimists might say. There was a seriousness in Arcade Fire’s early sound that formed the footing of their appeal. Through swelling instrumentals and urgent storytelling, they claimed their emotion unabashedly. In a time when sincerity was uncool, Arcade Fire made it underground vogue. For a brief moment, their audacity to be self-important created a redemptive experience for listeners who bemoaned the apathy of the postmodern moment.
It seems, however, that Arcade Fire couldn’t stand to be at the receiving end of snark any longer. At some point in between the shock of winning a Grammy for The Suburbs (2010) and creating Everything Now, Arcade Fire swapped sincerity for irony and decided they would make fun of themselves before anyone else could. Whether part of the band’s genuine evolution, a sad defense mechanism, or a joke of manic proportions, it it matters not: Everything Now is so sickeningly indigestible, so utterly useless, that Arcade Fire’s fascination with pushing the envelope of meta has finally caused their demise.