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’