Arcade Fire’s repertoire by now constitutes a plethora of strings adorning their multi-talented bow. From their baroque-influenced, smash hit debut Funeral, fuelled by the pain of losing a family member – which several members of the band experienced in the lead up to its release – through the nostalgia-tinted poignance with which The Suburbs gazed at the world, to the carousing future-pop of Reflektor, it has become a self-contradicting staple of the Canadian sextet that the only feature of a new Arcade Fire album one can truly expect is that its content will be brave, fresh, and completely surprising.
The band seems to have taken this last trait to its extreme with regards to the marketing “ploys” surrounding the release of Everything Now. In an endeavour presumably meant to shock fans with its satirical venom and biting wit, their social media pages have taken on the look and feel of a gigantic (and slightly sinister) corporation “Everything Now Corp”, whose marketing stunts included scavenger hunts for branded cereal boxes and whose very existence seems to represent our insatiable thirst for “everything now”, and the crushing weight of the corporations and conglomerates that monopolise our lives by feeding it to us. This is the place from which Everything Now comes.
The Creature Comfort cereal boxes contain cereal, and a “Creature Comfort” CD single. They smell of methylphenidate, apparently. Brilliant. pic.twitter.com/hLok78cp5b
— Arcade Fire tube ? (@ArcadeFiretube) June 14, 2017
While this message doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of satire or social awareness, it does represent the most overt foray yet into the realms of relevant, contemporary criticism by the band, and, in the process, manages to produce an album which is simultaneously cynical and alive with compassion, all underpinned by some truly memorable tunes. The opener and title track ‘Everything Now’ contrasts its 70s disco beat and happy-go-lucky melody with the most, if not biting, then mischievous example of the aforementioned cynicism by, if not lamenting, then pointing out the strangeness of our culture’s emergent obsession with everything instantaneous. Win Butler notes “every song that I’ve ever heard / Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd”; and this absurdity is exactly what the track is aiming its side-eyed wink at. The delightfully understated pan pipes add a note of whimsy and a touch of the mad-cap to proceedings, making this a tune which encapsulates Arcade Fire’s take on our society – and indeed their personality as a band – perfectly: undeniably clever, but irresistibly charming all the same.
Further down the line, however, the arm-waving techno of the intro to ‘Creature Comforts’ gives way to a deceptively intimate take on those thoughts which rest just below the surface of even the most immaculate personas. “Some boys hate themselves / Spend their lives resenting their fathers” while “Some girls hate their bodies / Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback”, rails Win, in a track which provides not only commentary, but a refreshingly hopeful and compassionate take on a darker issue when it admits “It’s not painless / She was a friend of mine”, shedding the smarty-pants voice that covers a lot of the album in favour of a softer, gentler one. It’s undoubtedly a highlight.
If, in the map of peaks and troughs of the album, ‘Creature Comforts’ is a trough, then ‘Infinite Content’ is most definitely a peak in terms of frantic energy. The insidiously hollow prospect of being merely “infinitely content” (and nothing more) with the Infinite Content our modern culture provides us with blares out of the track full throttle, with smashing drums and thrashing guitars that comprise a 90-odd second burst of rock that hints at the band’s well-documented talent in that area. That is until it’s followed by its second part – a mellow, swaying follow up with lilting guitars, which listens like a ghost from The Suburbs.
Everything Now is at once eclectic and cohesive, whimsical and poignant, clever and smug, and utterly compassionate, and while its satire and willingness to tackle the big issues is what first catches the eye, it’s this compassion and warmth which stays with the listener long after the final notes are played.