Monday, December 04, 2017

Arcade Fire - Everything Now

Arcade Fire – Everything Now (Sony)

Did anyone review the actual Arcade Fire album in 2017? Or did every writer who felt conned by its dubiously humorous marketing campaign condemn it on principle?

When Everything Now was released in July, Arcade Fire were hated, for reasons that have little to do with the music and everything to do with the marketing campaign—which tells you almost everything you need to know about the music industry in 2017. 

In the weeks leading up to the album launch, the band planted a bunch of stories on the Internet about elaborate and bogus merchandise, including branded fidget spinners. Silly, but harmless. 

Then it escalated. One story appeared on a lookalike National Post website about a multi-million-dollar Arcade Fire film project with Terry Gilliam that had apparently been ongoing for a decade, costing millions of dollars. People believed it: the band had worked with Gilliam before, and he’s known for expensive projects that blow past deadlines and budgets. Then there was a story on an ersatz Billboard site about how the band was trying to patent the ubiquitous “millennial whoop,” otherwise known as the “woah-oh-oh” refrain alternating between the third and fifth notes of the scale. People believed this, too: Arcade Fire’s 2004 hit “Wake Up” arguably started this scourge of modern pop music, and the intensely private and protective band just might be arrogant enough to think they invented it and deserved recompense—or so the haters were happy to believe.

Finally, ticket-holders to a private, corporate-branded album launch show in Brooklyn were told to wear something “hip and trendy” or they would be denied entry. This followed a request—not a demand—on the 2014 tour that the audience dress up festively, in keeping with the Caribbean carnival theme underlying Reflektor. Both times, people took the news literally, and saw it as extreme arrogance and elitism (guess those people never went to their prom). Just like with U2, there’s a large cohort of music fans who want to believe the worst about Arcade Fire. This time, the band played directly into their hands. 

In addition to being convincing, some of the satirical stories were genuinely funny. The problem was that the butt of the jokes was Arcade Fire’s own fan base. At a time when the media world is (rightfully) obsessed with the concept of “fake news”—somewhat plausible but patently false stories that appear on non-traditional media sites, designed to muddy the political sphere—Arcade Fire held a mirror up to its own audience, and proved them to be just as gullible as a Trump supporter reading Russian propaganda. This same month, when Trump gave a totally bananas interview to the New York Times, a fake clip circulated on Twitter, supposedly from the same interview, in which he claims to be dazzled by the science behind helium balloons—again, completely plausible considering the person involved, but false. 

Absolutely no one will care about that when they listen to this record in 2018 and beyond. Certainly no one cared about anything but the music at the arena show I saw in November, which was virtually flawless, and where not one of these songs would have been considered a lull alongside the classics. As the sixth album in Arcade Fire’s discography, Everything Now is one of their best: right behind Funeral and The Suburbs. Unlike the largely bleak Reflektor, this is dance music you actually want to dance to. The grooves are stronger, the melodies brighter, the tiny sonic details in the background illuminating the corners.

Four singles advanced the album. The title track is a disco song with piano borrowed from ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and a flute loop lifted from the recently reissued Cameroonian musician Francis Bebey. The handclap-happy “Signs of Life” is a natural extension of Reflektor’s title track, with some of the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven” thrown in. “Electric Blue” is a showcase for RĂ©gine Chassagne and is the band’s most obvious ode to one of their biggest influences, Talking Heads (specifically, the Speaking in Tongues record).

“Creature Comfort” is catchy electro-pop, despite its ominous lyrics about self-harm—and self-aggrandizing. It’s this song that rankled advance reviewers, perhaps more for the lyrical content than the LCD Soundsystem groove underneath it. It’s (yet another) Win Butler rant against kids today and the effects of social media, celebrity and consumerism that make him sound like a grumpy grandpa. But that’s who Butler is, and who he has been since day one—when he released the first Arcade Fire EP in his mid-20s—and it’s what sets him apart from all his peers, who don’t dare criticize fans seduced by smartphones and streaming music (which is everyone). I understand why that’s part of what people have always criticized Arcade Fire for, but to suggest that this is what sinks Everything Now is ridiculous.

Admittedly, the two songs that expand on that theme—two takes on a song called “Infinite Content”—are the least successful songs here. But they’re also a total of three minutes out of the whole record, a record we’re led to believe is a disaster on the level of U2’s 1997 album Pop, but where nothing comes close to Reflektor’s lows, i.e. “Porno.”

The five other tracks range from the ska lilt of “Chemistry” to the distorted reggae of “Peter Pan” to the electronic country song “We Don’t Deserve Love” to the slow funk and sparse slow bass line on “Good God Damn.” All of them are glorious.

If part of Arcade Fire’s plan was to lower expectations and then pleasantly surprise us, well, then maybe, just maybe, there’s some counterintuitive genius there. 

“Put your money on me,” sings Win Butler here, on the Donna Summer-esque song of the same name. “If you think I’m losing you, you must be crazy.” I don’t know, is that crazy? 

Stream: “Everything Now,” “Signs of Life,” “Chemistry” 

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