Ar­cade Fire keeps mov­ing for­ward with fun and whimsy

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - BEN RAYNER

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.

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