review: arcade fire "everything now"

by Tommy Crawford

Arcade Fire has always been a band of opinions, dichotomies, and a healthy dose of self-conscious irony. Through their five albums they have used their music as a meditation on the melancholy of childhood(s) lost, as a pointed dagger cutting at the hypocrisy of Christianity, and as a self-reflection about whether they themselves are perpetuating the problems they so often critique. These ideas are never presented with the crystalline clarity of other indie ideologues such as Father John Misty, rather they are brief and deeply personal remembrances like individual lines of poetry strung together by guitar riffs and violins.

This style of lyricism has worked for and against Arcade Fire over the years. Sweetly juvenile love letters made "Funeral" incredibly personal and yet extremely relatable for those with a bittersweet relationship to the past. The same level of juvenility was used to address religion in "Neon Bible," making for an uneven album with some of the band's first skippable numbers.

That being said, Arcade Fire has never stopped making good music. "Funeral" and "The Suburbs" are sonically some of the most well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable albums ever made. "Keep the Car Running" and "My Body is a Cage" are brilliant, making up for the dimmer parts of "Bible." "Reflektor" is full of post-modern techno-rock that makes even a sober listening party feel like a Spike Jonze movie.

Both of these traditions carry into the band's most recent outing "Everything Now." Led by the perfect, ABBA-inspired, Daft Punk-curated title track, the high points of "Everything Now" rank right alongside the other transcendent sermons from the band's earlier albums. The album peaks in the distorted, straight-rock "Infinite Content" and its Cracker Barrel second half. "Electric Blue" is a funky, buzzy Régine Chassagne-led piece, reminiscent enough of "Sprawl II" to satisfy nostalgic fans, and "Creature Comfort" is a strange mix of chiptune and classic "Suburbs"-esque harmonies that somehow just works (after a few listens).

One of the most noticeable things about the album, however, is how inconsistent it is. "Reflektor" similarly suffered from such peaks and valleys. "Chemistry" echoes "Flashbulb Eyes" – songs that are one-dimensional in ideology and strangely polka-style in rhythm, with mutes applied to both the trumpets and the quality of the music. Win Butler and company are such talents, most of their weaker numbers such as "Good God Damn" have some redeeming quality (a killer bassline, for example), but "Peter Pan" and "Chemistry" are both unredeemable and inexcusable. This record jarringly makes one recall a time an Arcade Fire album wasn't host to any "weaker numbers."

At some point in every band's life, we have to ask ourselves if we've already heard the best album said band will give us. Coming off their second album of a bipolar quality, Arcade Fire has hit that point in its existence. There's plenty to like in "Everything Now" and plenty to critique, but for the first time in Arcade Fire's history we may have to accept that the good has to come with the bad.

illustration by sarah crawford,
inspired by arcade fire "everything now" single artwork