Ar­cade Fire glim­mers on un­even ‘Ev­ery­thing Now’

In­die rock­ers ex­hibit flashes of bril­liance on new al­bum

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE -

If you think Ar­cade Fire has de­volved into self-par­ody, they want you to know they’re in on the joke.

In pro­mot­ing their fifth ef­fort Ev­ery­thing Now (eegE out of four), the Cana­dian in­die rock­ers have clev­erly poked fun at du­ti­ful al­bum cy­cles and their oft-cited pre­ten­tious­ness, un­spool­ing fake brand-spon­sored con­tent on their so­cial me­dia feeds and sell­ing their own ver­sions of Kendall and Kylie Jen­ner’s con­tro­ver­sial band t-shirts. They even trolled crit­ics with mock-ups of mu­sic sites Pitch­fork and Bill­board, pub­lish­ing a snarky yet en­tirely spot-on re­view of their al­bum on “Stere­oyum” (a satire of Stere­ogum), which will surely make any mu­sic writer blush with em­bar­rass­ment.

If only they had been quite as self-aware writ­ing Ev­ery­thing Now, a sonic step for­ward with oc­ca­sional flashes of bril­liance that also buck­les un­der the weight of its own lofty ideas. Much of the al­bum grap­ples with dis­sat­is­fac­tion in a me­dia-ob­sessed age, which singers in­clud­ing Katy Perry and Fa­ther John Misty have also tack­led with vary­ing lev­els of suc­cess this year. The most on the nose is pop-punk ditty In­fi­nite Con­tent and its coun­tri­fied suc­ces­sor In­fi­nite _ Con­tent , whose re­peated jux­ta­po­si­tion of lyrics “in­fi­nite con­tent” and “we’re in­fin­itely con­tent” doesn’t stim­u­late so much as it grates.

The jaunty, reg­gae-tinged Chem­istry and faux-gritty Signs of Life also hinge on con­nec­tion or a lack thereof, but both are bogged down by pedes­trian lyrics and for­get­table melodies that we hoped had been lost with the band’s last genre-bend­ing record, 2013’s Re­flek­tor. (And the less said about front­man Win But­ler’s over-earnest talk-rap­ping, the bet­ter.)

The only song to suc­cess­fully cou­ple Ar­cade Fire’s mod­ern con­cerns with el­e­gant song­writ­ing is lead sin­gle Ev­ery­thing Now, a deceptively sunny cri­tique of con­sumerism whose rue­ful verses are off­set by tin­kling pi­ano, swelling strings and a mur­mur­ing, de­light­fully un­ex­pected pan flute.

The al­bum’s most grat­i­fy­ing string of songs is in its back half, start­ing with Elec­tric Blue. Régine Chas­sagne takes the lead for the nim­ble dance track, which takes a page from French pop band Phoenix as she sings about heartache in a crys­talline falsetto over a buoy­ant synth bass line.

The flick­er­ing funk bal­lad Good God Damn, like the ear­lier Crea­ture Com­fort, is a deeply felt ru­mi­na­tion on death and self­loathing, while the dreamy, Ab­bain­debted slow-burn Put Your Money on Me is among the band’s best on any al­bum.

Although Ev­ery­thing Now lacks the co­he­sive­ness of Ar­cade Fire’s Grammy-win­ning tri­umph The Sub­urbs, there’s still plenty to ad­mire as the group moves in ad­ven­tur­ous new direc­tions.

And while many scoff at the band’s an­tics (which in­clude en­forc­ing a dress code for a Brook­lyn con­cert), most every­one can agree there’s no one mak­ing mu­sic like them right now.

GUY AROCH

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