Ar­cade Fire lat­est is ‘Ev­ery­thing’ ex­cept good

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GREG KOT

Ar­cade Fire, a band not gen­er­ally cel­e­brated for its sense of hu­mor, re­cently posted a spoof re­view of its fifth stu­dio al­bum, “Ev­ery­thing Now” (Columbia). It was per­haps de­signed as a pre-emp­tive strike against the type of re­views that in­evitably rain down on a band that has moved past crit­i­cal darling phase into mid-ca­reer sta­sis.

What eludes them is an even bet­ter re­sponse to that sort of me­dia skep­ti­cism: A great al­bum, and “Ev­ery­thing Now” is not that.

To its credit, the Mon­treal sex­tet isn’t stand­ing pat. Af­ter its sur­prise Grammy al­bum of the year award in 2012 for “The Sub­urbs,” it re­turned with an am­bi­tious double al­bum, “Re­flek­tor,” in 2013, a mix of propul­sive dance tracks and slower, less fo­cused art-rock songs.

“Ev­ery­thing Now” is a tighter but not bet­ter al­bum. The heavy­weight arena an­thems of Ar­cade Fire’s 2004 de­but, “Fu­neral,” are long gone, re­placed by brood­ing lyrics en­cased in lighter mu­sic.

“In­fi­nite Con­tent,” the ti­tle shared by two songs in the al­bum’s mid­dle, sug­gests a loose theme. This is an al­bum-length re­quiem for the over­stim­u­lated and the un­der-in­spired, an ode to the numb gen­er­a­tion.

It’s hardly a new prob­lem —Ra­dio­head’s “OK Com­puter” and “Kid A” and Gran­daddy’s “The Sopht­ware Slump,” among oth­ers, ex­plored it at length nearly two decades ago. Ar­cade Fire try to avoid wal­low­ing by pick­ing up the disco thread that weaved through “Re­flek­tor.” It’s an art-rock band that uses the funk­i­ness of Talking Heads, “San­din­ista”-era Clash and ESG as touch­stones, along with con­tem­po­raries such as LCD Soundsys­tem and Daft Punk. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that LCD’s James Mur­phy co-pro­duced “Re­flek­tor” and Daft Punk’s Thomas Ban­gal­ter was en­listed to co-pro­duce “Ev­ery­thing Now.”

“Crea­ture Com­fort” blends “Blade Run­ner” synths and a clipped elec­tronic pulse to un­der­gird a tale of de­spair and sui­cide. “God make me fa­mous,” But­ler sings. “If you can’t, just make it pain­less.”

It’s one of the al­bum’s strong­est mo­ments, matched by “Elec­tric Blue,” in which Regine Chas­sagne’s del­i­cate voice floats over a wist­ful yet hyp­notic elec­tro groove.

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