Everything Everything – A Fever Dream

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Everything Everything. They were one of the first bands I truly got into – due to their ridiculous yet honest lyrics (just listen to ‘No Reptiles’), hyperactive instrumentation and extremely catchy choruses. Their last album Get To Heaven, ended up being their best yet. It struck a perfect balance between being fun and thought-provoking, taking a more politically charged tone than their past releases.

A Fever Dream is similarly a political album. Take opener ‘Night of the Long Knives’ for example, in which Jonathan Higgs sings about a city being bombed during war. His blasé tone on the song’s hook – ‘Man, I know it’s a real big shame about your neighbourhood’ – is chilling, highlighting the lack of sympathy that a lot of people in the West have for wars and conflicts that don’t affect them directly. It strikes that balance that Everything Everything’s best tracks do, being clever and horrifying at the same time. The instrumentation compliments the song well, with the synths almost resembling the sound of sirens.

Like I said, politics run through much of the album. ‘Big Game’ comes across almost as a Donald Trump diss track (with Higgs referring to him as a ‘bovine balloon’), while ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’ and ‘Ivory Tower’ make clear allusions to issues of racial prejudice. It’s these songs that have the most power to them on the album. Lead single ‘Can’t Do’, one of the few songs without a political edge, feels like a falter for the band. Though this may just be because the song’s about writer’s block, which, to be honest, is one of the least interesting themes the band could’ve chosen to write about. It’s not a bad song, but it’s definitely missing that something that Everything Everything’s best songs have (like ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Distant Past’).

Luckily though, there are plenty of other songs on here that do reach the high-energy heights of the band’s best work. In addition to ‘Night of the Long Knives’, ‘Desire’ is an incredible amount of fun – with its downright explosive chorus – and ‘Ivory Tower’ has some of the most frantic instrumentation featured on an Everything Everything song in a while. The guitars, the bass, the drums… The band are just at top performance on this song. Paired with some pretty cutting lyrics about class, it’s easily one of the strongest songs the band has put out.

A Fever Dream also features a lot of slow moments as well, which does let it down in some ways. Many of the slow songs are great individually, such as the title track and the moving ‘Put Me Together’, but they do make the middle part of the album drag a little bit. After three energetic tracks at its beginning (‘Night of the Long Knives’, ‘Can’t Do’, ‘Desire’), A Fever Dream drops its pace significantly and doesn’t really recover until near the end with ‘Ivory Tower’. The album closes with one last slow track, but luckily it’s a fantastic one. ‘White Whale’ is straightforward love song, something the band don’t do often, centring around a great hook: ‘Your love is like the white whale’.

Pacing issues aside, A Fever Dream is an incredible album and shows Everything Everything continuing to do what they do best… Whether it’s better than Get To Heaven it’s too early to say, but I’d definitely say it’s just as good.

Best Tracks: ‘Night of the Long Knives’, ‘Desire’, ‘Ivory Tower’

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Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Everything Now is Arcade Fire’s worst album by a fair amount. But that doesn’t mean it’s an awful album.

Following in the footsteps of 2013’s Reflektor, Arcade Fire’s fifth album shows them further embracing an electronic/disco direction. Depending on how you much you liked Reflektor, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. While it was definitely a bit bloated (coming in at an hour and fifteen minutes ignoring the ten-minute secret song…), I felt the album featuring some of the band’s best material. Tracks like ‘Reflektor’, ‘We Exist’ and ‘Afterlife’, in my opinion, rank among Arcade Fire’s best.

While Everything Now certainly fixes some of my main issues with Reflektor (it’s nowhere near as long), it definitely isn’t up to the same standard. Even people who weren’t a fan of that album could say that it was gutsy and ambitious… In comparison, Everything Now to me is the band’s first release where it doesn’t feel like they’re pushing themselves.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Lead single ‘Everything Now’ is great; it’s a lot of fun, with an ABBA-esque piano riff and some great lyrics about consumerism. The chorus is also a lot of fun to sing along to. It’s easily the most radio-friendly song the band has ever put out – even some of my friends who aren’t into Arcade Fire have admitted to liking it – and that’s not entirely a bad thing. What it lacks in the emotional power of their earlier songs, it makes up for with pure enthusiasm (there’s no denying that the band sounds like they’re having a lot of fun on the song).

However, as good as the song is, it does signpost a lot of the issues I had with most of the album’s other tracks. Mainly the lyrics. Win Butler adopts a more cynical and almost dispassionate tone on Everything Now, shown more clearly on the album’s two other main singles ‘Signs of Life’ and ‘Creature Comfort’. Musically, these songs are pretty solid – nothing incredible, but fun – but lyrically they feel pretty lazy. On ‘Signs of Life’, Butler sings about the ‘cool kids stuck in the past’ in a cynical tone, almost looking down on them. It feels impersonal, unlike the band’s best work (just listen to any song off Funeral). The same can be said for ‘Creature Comfort’, which changes the focus to self-harm and suicide. Props to the band for choosing to sing about what can be quite a sensitive subject, but the way they go about it is just, well, a little bit baffling. Again, Butler’s tone feels incredibly passionless and flippant, and so do the lyrics: ‘Assisted suicide / She dreams about dying all the time’. Though I’m sure the band care about what they’re singing about, the song does feel like a bit of a shrug. (And some might argue that the line about the suicidal girl putting on their first record as she fills up the bath is a little unnecessary.)

This problem crops up a lot on Everything Now. And even when the lyrics aren’t cynical, they’re lazy instead. A lot of people have highlighted the album’s middle stretch (‘Peter Pan’, ‘Chemistry’ and the two Infinite Content songs) as its low point and I’d have to agree. The lyrics on these songs are pretty hard to defend, whether it’s the cheesy chorus on ‘Peter Pan’ (‘Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan’) or the particularly aimless verses on ‘Chemistry’: ‘Go to the city, go the store / Ask for a loan from another bank’. Musically, these songs are all pretty weak as well (unlike the singles). However, I will admit that I have a slight soft spot for ‘Chemistry’, which despite having some of the worst lyrics on the album and a chorus that is repeated too many times, is fun to sing along to.

The problem with Everything Now is that a lot of its tracks have the potential to be great but fail because of a couple of bad elements. ‘Electric Blue’ is another track that suffers from this. The lyrics here are pretty strong (apart from the ‘na-na-na’ chorus) and the song’s disco beat is actually really great, but Régine Chassagne’s vocals completely ruin it for me. Her high pitch falsetto vocals are just unpleasant and incredibly disappointing when considering how good her work is on some of the band’s older songs (see ‘In the Backseat’ and ‘Sprawl II’).

The last couple of tracks on the album are a saving grace in a way, definitely capturing the classic Arcade Fire feel that most of the album is missing. ‘Put Your Money On Me’ is built around a clever metaphor and features some great crooning vocals from Win Butler. Unlike the album’s other love songs (‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Chemistry’), the emotion here feels genuine. The same can be said for ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’, the album’s last proper track. It’s Everything Now’s quietest moment and maybe its most powerful one.

Closing things out is ‘Everything Now (continued)’, a track which feels inconsequential. It kind of feels like a victory lap of sorts, with the soaring strings reprising the central riff of the album’s title track. The band did a similar thing on The Suburbs, closing things out with a return to the album’s title track, but there it felt earned. Here it doesn’t.

Though I’ve been focusing mainly on Everything Now’s negatives, I don’t think it’s an awful album… I’ve definitely heard many worse releases this year. It just feels awful in the context of Arcade Fire’s discography. There’s a handful of songs I really like on Everything Now and even some aspects to some of the weaker songs that I like as well…  But the album just feels pretty inconsequential overall. And that’s not what I expected from a band that’s put out some of my all-time favourite albums.

Best Tracks: ‘Everything Now’, ‘Put Your Money On Me’, ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’