Arcade Fire keeps moving forward with fun and whimsy
Sometimes one wishes Arcade Fire would just relax and stop approaching every single record as the most important album of all time but, at the same time, it seems silly to fault a band of such popular prominence for having consistently outsized ambitions.
Someone has to steer the mainstream in wise directions, after all. Heaven knows Lil’ Jon and Selena Gomez won’t do it. And, as the likes of Pink Floyd, Radiohead and U2 have ably demonstrated in the past, pretension and self-importance are perfectly forgivable if the music’s there to back them up.
On “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire’s fifth album (released July 28), the music is once again mostly there to carry the weight of the Montreal sextet’s pomposity. Truth be told, it’s a fairly whimsical affair, at least by Arcade Fire’s ultraserious standards. Since loosening up a little and learning to dance on 2013’s somewhat divisive, disco-shocked Reflektor, the band has begun to balance frontman Win Butler’s endless existential and spiritual and cultural angst a bit with the instant levity that comes from hitting people with a hip-shakin’ groove or three now and then, and that process continues apace with Everything Now.
This time around, the Fire succumbs an even more potent case of dance fever, thanks to the presence of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter — who co-produces, along with Pulp’s Steve Mackey and longtime collaborator Markus Dravs — behind the boards for a few tracks, most obviously on the lushly ABBA-esque lead single and title track.
And the urge to wiggle keeps coming well after that likable intro sets the album in motion: “Signs of Life” plays like a kinetic mash-up of Stereo MCs’ “Connected,” the Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven” and Talking Heads in general; “Peter Pan” is a twitchy slab of blownspeaker dub; the uncharacteristically lighthearted “Chemistry” smashes rough-hewn ska into gnarly Led Zeppelin riffery at the chorus; and Régine Chassagne leads the band through a sparkling electro-homage to Talking Heads offshoot Tom Tom Club on “Electric Blue.”
Even “Creature Comfort,” a song haunted by the spectre of suicide (“She dreams about dying all the time / She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record”), bounds along on an irresistibly insistent robo-beat.
“Good God Damn,” meanwhile, establishes that Arcade Fire’s reputation for being uptight doesn’t preclude a keen appreciation for the slack-assed disco thing the Stones were doing circa Some Girls.
In any case, the Arcade Fire of Everything Now bears little resemblance to the Arcade Fire that made Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs, which, depending upon how you viewed the various remodelings of Reflektor, means you’ll either find the latest steps forward evidence of its lasting greatness or conclude that it has totally lost its way. I would argue in favour of “lasting greatness,” even if, as was the case with Reflektor, Everything Now doesn’t quite hang together as an “album” album the way The Suburbs so masterfully did, nor is it the definitive summation of this phase of the Arcade Fire’s career. We’re still in transition here.
Arcade Fire continues to steer mainstream pop in wise directions with Everything Now, Ben Rayner writes.