On paper, Everything Everything’s new album promised to be their best yet. The Manchester art-rock band have been growing in a steady trajectory since their debut in 2010, and their 2015 release Get to Heaven was one of the year’s hidden gems, balancing inventive structures with hooks to rival the catchiest pop songs of the decade. Their unique, danceable maximalism is the perfect product and encapsulation of our hyperactive era: influenced by almost every conceivable genre, playful, paranoid, apocalyptic. Take into account the state of the world today, then, and it’s easy to see why many got carried away; Brexit, Donald Trump, ISIS, and a confluence of hundreds of other factors provide a ripe context for a band who revel in such chaos.
A Fever Dream does not quite live up to the heights fans imagined for it. That’s not to say it’s a failure – far from it; at its peaks this album mixes it with the best of the year. Opening track Night of the Long Knives (named after the night of political assassinations used by the National Socialist party to wrestle control of Germany in 1934) is suitably panicked. It opens with an erratic synthesiser and ominous, sparse base, before exploding into life with the line “It’s coming!” Dissonant synthesisers pitch up and dive like the strings in a Penderecki score while singer Jonathan Higgs teases, “Shame about your neighbourhood.”
The strong opening continues with tracks like Can’t Do and Desire. Everything Everything have always painted best in broad strokes, and never more so than on Desire. The chorus features some of the fattest, crunchiest guitars you’ll hear for years, while Higgs belts its simple yet effective refrain: “Desire! Desire! Desire! I can’t stop now!” The harmonies are rousing, and the melodies in the chorus reminiscent of Muse at their best (in fact, the whole track sounds like what modern-day Muse might sound like if they made good music these days).
Big Game – despite its questionable lyrics – punctuates its critique of Donald Trump with a consciously ridiculous, swaggering riff you could only allow yourself to play or listen to under a heavy layer of irony. That it works is testament to both a certain amount of discretion on the part of the band, and the sheer joy with which they hurtle through this section. Run the Numbers is almost equally ridiculous and yet more successful. Here Higgs inhabits the character of a disenfranchised voter “tired of experts”, as Micheal Gove famously quipped in the run-up to the EU referendum. “I don’t need to run the numbers,” Higgs screams, “Cause I can feel it and I don’t care.”
Where this album stumbles, however, is where it strays away from what the band do best. This is not to admonish any experimentation, and certainly not to request Everything Everything make the same kind of bombastic stadium-rock for the rest of their careers, only to wish they would execute it better. Unfortunately, the narrower and the slower numbers on the record, especially on the back half, struggle to hold the attention. On Ivory Tower the band leave behind the catchy melodies that got them this far, but fail to make-up for this in texture, structure, rhythm or lyricism. New Deep builds an excellent atmosphere, opening with the sound of traffic and a slamming car door before fading into the tender piano part that drives its short two-and-a-half minute runtime. The song is barely more than an interlude, however, the one vocal line simplistic in both melody and lyrics – barely even a tone-piece or a palette cleanser.
Finally, closing track White Whale is probably the worst on the whole album: a boring five-minute plod whose idea of escalating tension is simply to add a sickly choral backing to the same old tune. It’s a shame, because songs like Put Me Together and Good Shot, Good Soldier show the band nailing this slower, more introspective mood. They draw influences from Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke and create something new and exciting. If only they could be a little more consistent.