It’s all too much
State of the union address from the Montreal sextet.
Arcade Fire Everything Now COLUMBIA. CD/DL/LP
AMONG THE most chilling statements Margaret Thatcher made about her neoliberal global fantasy is the remark, in 1981, that “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”. Three decades later, the vision shared by Thatcher and Reagan of control via consumerism is imploding. Towers burn, violent rampages are routine, and no situation is so terrible that it can’t be used as a potential marketing opportunity. Everything Now, the title track of Arcade Fire’s fifth album, is as devastating a pop critique of neoliberalism as you could hope to find – a sweeping, glorious disco thumper that glows incandescent with rage: “Every room in my house is full of shit I couldn’t live without,” spits Win Butler. It’s urgent and propulsive but it’s also playful, with a Dancing Queen-style piano riff and pygmy flute (courtesy of Patrick Bebey, son Francis Bebey of The Coffee Cola Song fame). Even the Hey Jude-y crowd singalong works; there’s a rightness to its righteousness, a feeling that dancing while Rome burns might be exactly the right thing to do. But the album as a whole also has a coldness that threatens to undermine the point that Everything Now strives to make. Signs Of Life deals in crisp Blaxploitation funk motifs and half-rapped phrases that suggest Blondie’s Rapture, while Chemistry offsets its ‘60s Blue Beat ska verses with a guitar-licked chorus that plays like I Love Rock‘n’Roll. Adventurous stuff, but without a direct emotional connection to the listener, cultural polemics can feel like finger-wagging. What made debut album Funeral so visceral was its tenderness. Its intimate songs bristled with questions; maybe answers hung in the air but nothing was spelt out, and it felt like an invitation to join in. By contrast, a song like Infinite Content, here, feels bracing and airless, a punk shouter that clocks in under three minutes, followed by a country-style coda based on the same melody and quip (a lyrical play on infinite content and being infinitely content). The despair induced by an endless spew of “content” constantly barfed up by the internet is real. But in the end, this song serves only to replicate that experience. More affecting is Creature Comfort, which buzzes and crackles like early New Order and explores the self-hatred and self-harming that has become so endemic in selfie-centred teen culture. Elsewhere, Regine Chassagne’s delicate, dreamy R&B outing Electric Blue plays like an algorithm’s love song. The album’s last song proper, We Don’t Deserve Love, has the same queasy beauty, expansive and unrushed, simultaneously melancholy and un-self-pitying. In an era of chaos, panic and fear, that spaciousness feels like a gift, frightening as it may be.