AR­CADE FIRE Ev­ery­thing Now

Cana­di­ans’ fifth par­ties on the edge of the abyss.

UNCUT - - New Albums - By Graeme Thom­son

The bulk of Ar­cade Fire’s fifth al­bum was recorded in New Or­leans, and mixed in the city at the pre­cise mo­ment when the li­bidi­nous fes­tiv­i­ties of Mardi Gras col­lided with the dawn­ing of an era of un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal cyn­i­cism in the US. Little won­der, then, that Ev­ery­thing Now bris­tles with the hu­mid, slightly hys­ter­i­cal en­ergy of a party thrown at the edge of the abyss. It’s a record that makes max­i­mum yield from com­pet­ing ten­sions: old world tra­di­tions and new world tech­nol­ogy; lim­it­less leisure and end­less angst; de­spair and hope; sim­ple tunes and com­plex emo­tions.

Cre­ated in the band’s own Boom­box Stu­dios in the Cres­cent City, with fur­ther record­ing in Paris and Mon­treal, Ev­ery­thing Now feels like an ur­gent re­birth. The de­lib­er­ately sprawl­ing Re­flek­tor was heav­ily in­flu­enced by haitian rara, racine and Caribbean rhythms. Some­thing of that flavour is re­tained here – “Peter Pan” is skele­tal, dub-in­flected post-punk; “Chem­istry” breezy, faux-naïf ska, punc­tu­ated by ter­rific Dexys horns – but th­ese el­e­ments form only a small part of a wider fab­ric that en­com­passes disco, elec­tro-pop, new wave, funk and African rhythm, with smat­ter­ings of coun­try, gospel and Bap­tist hymns.

The sur­prise is how co­he­sive it all is, the dis­parate in­flu­ences ex­pertly cor­ralled by the band and a cre­ative team headed by Pulp’s Steve Mackey, Thomas Ban­gal­ter of Daft Punk, Por­tishead’s Ge­off Bar­row, and the band’s long-time co-pro­ducer, Markus Dravs. In con­trast to Re­flek­tor, Ev­ery­thing Now is tight and punchy. The tunes come tum­bling one af­ter the other, and the sonic blend is fre­quently thrilling. “Good God Damn” is es­sen­tially Tele­vi­sion’s “Mar­quee Moon” ar­ranged by Allen Tous­saint, and eas­ily as good as that sounds. The re­lent­less, spi­ralling groove of “Signs Of Life” is gumbo-disco. While the bass and horns are pure Bour­bon Street bump, the laser synth line and Win But­ler’s half-rapped vo­cals are in­debted to “Rap­ture”-era Blondie and Stu­dio 54.

“Crea­ture Com­forts”, mean­while, is sparkling ’80s elec­tronic pop that re­calls The hu­man League and OMD at their most grandiose. With its Ober­heim Two Voice synth sweeps, crisp beats and Régine Chas­sagne’s he­lium back­ing vo­cals, it’s a de­cep­tively dance­able an­them for the death-fix­ated, fame-hun­gry iGen­er­a­tion, and a totem of the LP’s abil­ity to suc­cess­fully fuse eu­phoric sounds and down­beat words. The LP is book­ended by two slow, brief al­ter­nate ver­sions of “ev­ery­thing Now”, the sup­ple, groove-based, Talk­ing head­sheavy sin­gle that gives the al­bum its ti­tle and ex­tends its core theme of the dan­gers and in­tox­i­cat­ing plea­sures of per­pet­ual over-stim­u­la­tion. “Every sin­gle room in my house is full of shit I couldn’t live with­out,” sings But­ler, as the gospel vo­cals soar and the propul­sive bassline pushes him on. This age of ex­ces­sive choice is crudely atom­ised on “In­fi­nite Con­tent” – “in­fin­itely

con­tent!” – which ap­pears in two rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ver­sions mid­way through the al­bum. One is punky and ur­gent, a rage against con­sumerism. The other is sweet and dreamy, borne on a drift­ing sum­mer breeze, as though all in­volved have been nar­coti­cised by sen­sory overload.

While “Signs Of Life” por­trays he­do­nism as a search for ex­is­ten­tial mean­ing, else­where the quest leads to even greater ex­tremes. On “Crea­ture Com­forts”, the pro­tag­o­nist “dreams about dy­ing all the time/Told me she came so close/Filled up the bath­tub and put on our first record.” The same dis­qui­et­ing scene is ex­plic­itly re­vis­ited later, on “Good God Damn”. “Put your favourite record on, baby, and fill the bath­tub up/You want to say good­bye to your old­est friends.” By the sec­ond telling, it feels dis­turbingly like real life.

And still the mu­sic glis­tens and gleams, which is, pre­sum­ably, partly the point. Ar­cade Fire save the most down­beat mu­si­cal mo­ments on Ev­ery­thing Now for ex­plor­ing in­ti­mate ter­rain. “Put Your Money On Me” pos­sesses the melan­cholic grandeur of late-pe­riod Abba, though the lyrics are closer to Ru­mours-era Fleet­wood Mac in their un­com­fort­ably high-def ac­count of one party’s undy­ing de­vo­tion in the teeth of a dis­in­te­grat­ing re­la­tion­ship.

The clos­ing “We Don’t De­serve Love”, mean­while, is a warped hy­per-bal­lad. The singer drives home from a time spent “hid­ing my scars in broad day­light bars/Be­hind laugh tracks on TV”, in the knowl­edge that ev­ery­thing has changed. “Keep both eyes on the road tonight,” But­ler coun­sels, wearily. It’s the place where all the epic melan­choly and con­fu­sion of Ev­ery­thing Now comes home to roost, the last lap of an in­tox­i­cat­ing ride.

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