Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was a thematic masterpiece that told the melancholy tale of the suburban sprawl and growing up amidst the joyful mundanity of it all. For the release of their latest album Everything Now, they published a whole entire line of fake merchandise and products and satirical website called Stereoyum, “prematurely” mocking their own album, yet for some reason, it doesn’t come across as clever. “We’ll definitely tentatively speculate on the track list’s unusual composition: There are three songs called Everything Now and two called Infinite Content,” they jokingly proclaim, but here, over a month after the album’s release, you can’t help but feel the constant rhetoric of the great western suburban materialism and discontent, though an interesting topic, is just a dead horse being beaten by a group of incredibly talented musicians. This time, however, it’s rage against the digital age as evidenced by the glowing neon cover. There’s this lack of energy throughout this year’s line up of tunes that’s hampered by its eagerness to shove its message down our throats. It’s not a bad record per se, but the stylistic departure from their stadium rock gospel seems strange, and frankly, they’re taking themselves a bit too seriously.
The influences from the names behind the albums production are clear, especially from Thomas Bangalter, one half of the Daft Punk duo: there are swelling synths in We Don’t Deserve Love and funked up picking patterns in Electric Blue, one of the more danceable songs. The album chooses to deal with more personal, controversial and macabre themes such as suicide and an unhealthy lust for fame, in Creature Comfort with “God make me famous, if you can’t, just make it painless” and “fill the bathtub up, you want to say goodbye” in Good God Damn. And it’s wrapped up in a respectable glam pop synth wave wrapper with heavy blasted drones or a picked bass line that occasionally contorts itself into something very cool. Especially the Everything Now continued version (god that feels weird to say), with the digital embellishments juxtaposed above traditional strings in a way that’s goose bump inducing. It’s a little weird to see Arcade Fire do something this, but there’s always a transitional period for artists, and with the recent retro digital revival theme spearheaded by groups like Daft Punk, it’s refreshing to see a different take on these sounds.
But then we get to Infinite Content and its better looking sister Infinite_Content, and we see frontman Win Butler’s preaching come to life. But not positively. Two sides of a mirror; one with a punk rock clamour and another a country blues tune bemoaning the relentless consumerism that is modern day living. The wordplay is clever, switching between “Infinite content” and “Infinitely content”, but it’s cliché and sonically you feel like you’ve been cheated. The music feels entirely secondary to the lyrics in this album. The jokingly silly, reggae brass in Chemistry mocks the barrage of corporate media in our digital world. It’s like the only reason it exists is to promote some ulterior message, and listeners are left scrambling to find meaning in the lyrics, all the while realising that the music just isn’t so memorable. Gone are the anthemic, thick horns backed by Afro-Indonesian percussion in Reflektor back in 2015, or the weight of the strummed guitar in Modern Man in 2010. They’re replaced by bland, seemingly half-hearted synth tracks, or emphatic bass riffs that seem a little out of place.
As soon as you pick up this album you’re assaulted with a range of polemic pieces on why you should shun corporate consumerism, or pity the self damaging nature of show business, or how you’re just another piece in the puzzle of this mortal and meaningless existence. It’s too much, even for Arcade Fire, who used to revel in these sort of despondent and relatable narratives. There’s little time for fun and just making a nice sounding track for the sake of it when you’re so busy marketing yourself as a modern day preacher amongst sheep. Everything Now should be viewed as a rather brave transitional album, a new era in the group’s repertoire that they haven’t quite gotten to grips with. A rocky, but hopeful start.