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Track-By-Track

Arcade Fire's Everything Now Reviewed Track By Track
Anna Wood , July 31st, 2017 09:34

Anna Wood delves into Arcade Fire's fifth long player in order to bring us a track by track breakdown. But is Everything Now something or nothing

Arcade Fire's new album is about content, and also content. On the one hand you’re referring to the mulch we all produce for the internet in order to get advertising, social-media traction, some sense of meaning in this crazy world; but to be content also means - wow, let’s not forget this - to be relaxed and happy, to feel replete, to be at peace with your life. Ironic, right? INSIGHTFUL. Are we content or are we content? YOU GET ME?

There is something exquisitely annoying about a person who tells you something you already know in a way that is faffily manufactured, slickly produced and assumes that this almost pleasantly mundane thought would never have occurred to you without their 'help'. It is particularly, grimly annoying because it reveals that they do not have the imagination or the good manners to realise that you have the same ability to notice faux-meaningful things; their energy is used up, they’re exhausted, by being cynical, pompous, defensive and inordinately pleased with themselves. They have wiped you out. You don’t exist, except maybe as someone who can (a) appreciate their deathly dull insights or (b) fuck off because you just don’t get it.

Where to go, then, what to do when you have a band who preemptively write fake negative reviews for their new album, a band who ordain a special hashtag, #dresscodegate, “inspired by the negative reaction to a fictional dress code that the band never insisted on for tomorrow's intimate show in Brooklyn”, as part of a game where fans wear their “least trendy” outfit for a gig and then post the pictures online. Judging by the marketing campaign, this is a band who are beginning to half-understand what “meta” means but have failed to grasp “disdain”, “arrogance” or “get the fuck over yourself”. Could it be that this is all just the crappy workings of a crappy PR machine, and the band had nothing to do with it? You might briefly, naively hope so. But then you listen to the album, examine it like evidence, and find that the whole thing really is the patronising, self-aggrandising, mean-spirited product of a deeply conservative and almost unbearably pompous group. Here, then, is our track-by-track analysis:

Everything_Now (Continued)

They wrongfoot us by starting the album with a downbeat, wispy 46 second intro. Clever.

Everything Now

This is like a less lush and soulful version of Yvonne Elliman’s 'If I Can’t Have You', with a bit of George McCrae’s 'Rock Your Baby'. It's a cheery song and they're singing, I think, about being overwhelmed by stuff, about how modern life is hectic and always-on and consumerist; and they're determined to make it profound: “Every inch of sky’s got a star, every inch of skin’s got a scar.” There's a darkness inherent in a happy-sounding song that’s telling you something nasty or sad; this can be a wonderful thing (eg every girl group of the 60s, and indeed about 75% of great pop songs) or it can just be mean and disingenuous. (This song is an example of the latter, as if you couldn't guess: “Every time you smile it’s a fake,” they sing. “Stop pretending you’ve got everything now.”) Also, is there any excuse for using (a) woodwind that sounds like the panpipes on The Fast Show and (b) this combination of piano, strings and chanting choir that desperately demands we feel emotional in that Coldplay-Snow Patrol way. It's very catchy, though: if you listen to it a few times you will still have it stuck in your head the next day. It is quite a good song if you take out the lyrics and the weirdly cynical-emotional instrumentation.

Signs Of Life

Yes always to bass and handclaps. No never to a huffy bloke who thinks he’s wry and wise when he tells you about how staying out late every night is bad (“Love is hard, sex is easy,” he says. You're doing it wrong, mate). This is mean-spirited conservatism that thinks it’s edgy and cool, with the added bonus of sexist undertones; you think you’ve got it all worked out, kids, but soon you’ll realise that you should be sticking it to the man by writing anodyne pop songs, drinking kombucha and getting to bed early. To add insult to insult, they nick squelchy 70s basslines and sci-fi strings from a culture where sex and staying up late were part of the glorious orthodoxy. There is a good bit near the end though where it starts to sound a bit like 'Thriller'.

Creature Comfort

The disdain for you, the listener, is pea-soup-thick here. “Some boys hate themselves, spend their lives resenting their fathers,” Butler sings, in a voice that is rigid with ragey faux-sincerity. “Some girls hate themselves, stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback.” This is a song of clunky literalism, like Clifford T Ward's 'Home Thoughts From Abroad', with philosophical insights in the league of Des'ree’s “Life, oh life” or Morrissey’s “Some girls are bigger than others, some girls’ mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers.” (It's not as good as either of those songs, though.) “God, make me famous, if you can’t, just make it painless,” they sing, with a kind of whimsical sigh at the end. Do you know what it's like to be patronised by a world-famous band with a wildly inflated sense of their own wisdom? You do now.

There is an exception, where Butler sings about a suicidal woman: “She filled up the bath and put on our first record,” then later in the song: “It’s not painless, she was a friend of mine.” The writing is different here, because they're talking about something specific and it feels real. But, still, this is essentially a lumbering disco track that believes we should bring back National Service.

A few people have mentioned Abba when they talk about this album. I will not be giving that comparison any space, because I love Abba. But this whole record, and especially this song and 'Everything Now', did remind me of something by Abba. Listen to 'Summer Night City', a song that Bjorn and Benny have both said they wish they hadn’t even released; it's a not-up-to-scratch song that's better than anything you'll hear on Everything Now. It’s a short, hard disco gem about hot late nights, dancing in the park, the pleasure, the hint of wrongness, the sensuality, the unreality of daybreak. And it has a line: “Some folks only see the litter, we don’t miss them when they’re gone.” I love that line. Win Butler is the man who only sees the litter. He’s the bloke at a party telling you that you’re not having a good time. I’m the woman telling him I’ll fucking decide if I’m having a good time or not.

When someone writes lyrics this bad, and imagines they are good, it's because they are underestimating you, the listener. They either don't trust you to understand, or they don't trust themselves to communicate, or both. Consider this paragraph from author George Saunders, in an article about how writers write: “You [the writer] make a rarefied place… and then welcome the reader in. She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her. [Writing and editing] is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced and well intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: 'No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.'” Now consider that what these songs, what these lyrics do is the opposite. They do not welcome you in, they do not imagine you are humane, bright, witty, experienced or well intentioned. They use lazy prose. That's because Arcade Fire are rude. They think you're an idiot.

Peter Pan

Butler sings, “Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan”, which is cute if you haven't read the book or if you're a woman who wants a really terrible relationship. Presumably Win Butler has read the book and is being clever and ironic, like when wankers drop something into the conversation to see if you've read Infinite Jest, but with JM Barrie instead of David Foster Wallace. There's some fairly appealing, playful plink-plonk, comedy-flumping and penny whistle noises that would be ace on a kids’ animation.

Chemistry

This is potentially kind of an amazing song in the realm of Randy Newman’s 'You Can Leave Your Hat On', where the narrator is a terrifyingly but also compellingly creepy bloke and there is some dark dysfunction just barely alluded to in the lyrics. The songwriting genius of Randy Newman is absent here, though; this is a cod reggae track that would, again, be pretty good on a kids’ programme (if you changed the creepoid lyrics).

Infinite Content And Infinite_Content

“Infinite content! Infinite content! We’re infinitely content!” This is a song of yelling that might have a distant ancestor in Billy Joel’s 'We Didn’t Start The Fire', but it is not as good. Also, it’s on the album twice, as two songs with the same name, but they’re both terrible in different ways and one of them has an underscore (MEANINGFUL). So, like, what does that tell you about life in a late-capitalist western industrial military prison complex where we’re all looking at our so-called 'smart'phones all the time? (A: nothing.) These songs are also both under two minutes, which at least suggests the band realised there wasn’t much meat here.

Electric Blue

This sounds like MGMT if they were really tired. It has a cute couplet in the chorus, that almost could be Prince: “Cover my eyes electric blue, every single night I dream about you.”

Good God Damn

“Put your favourite record on, baby, and fill the bathtub up.” Is he singing about his friend’s attempted suicide, from 'Creature Comfort'? I am struggling to see how that could be anything other than mindbogglingly self-centred and dreadful. The riff in this sounds a bit like Mick Jagger when he went spooky-disco on 'Miss You'.

Put Your Money On Me

This is another creepy-bloke song: “If you think i’m losing you, you must be crazy, I’m never gonna let you go even when it’s easy… When you bury me baby, I'll still be your friend’ It goes on for six minutes, aka too long. There are some quite nice synth noises.

We Don’t Deserve Love

This sounds old-fashioned blue-collar American, with a bluesy twang on the guitar and the repeated line: “I’m driving home to you.” It's a line that cruelly reminds you that you’re not listening to Roy Orbison or even Chris Rea. Atonal strings start bending and wibbling behind the guitar. Win Butler is feeling rejected: “You don’t wanna talk, you don’t wanna touch, don’t even wanna watch TV.” Here is a character I can empathise with. This is another song that, if it must exist, shouldn’t last for six minutes.

These two songs though – 'Put Your Money On Me' and 'We Don't Deserve Love' – do have hints of a world beyond the lyrics. There are suggestions and glimpses, the feeling that Arcade Fire might trust the listener to have an imagination, to be capable of independent thought, with no need for Butler to Winsplain to us. It gets a bit heavy-handed at the end, though, with a bit about your mother shouting you don’t deserve love, and something to do with Christ and Mary.

Everything Now (Continued)

The last song is called, again, 'Everything Now (Continued)'. It's a nice little reprise, especially if you’ve begun to accept the faux profundity of this album, begun to accept that maybe you should just listen to the moderately nice string section and wait for it all to be over.

Sometimes these songs remind you of other, great songs - but always in a way that makes you wish, almost with an ache, that you were listening to those songs instead. Perhaps in a way that suggests your brain is desperately scanning its files for reminders of a better world. So why cover the stuff you dislike so utterly, you might ask. Why not focus on highlighting the wonderful new music? Well, we do focus on the the wonderful new music. Why else would we be working in music journalism? But it’s also okay to talk about albums that are good with some disappointing bits, and it’s useful to point out, especially when a band is doing well and garnering cultural capital left right and centre (mainly centre in this case), that they are anodyne and insipid to the point of being grim. There’s no sense accentuating the positive if you leave the tawdry bullshit lying around untouched, oozing all over the place, pretending to be unthreatening and harmless. There’s an overton window of pop culture and we need to give it a good shove away from this pap. Or, to put it another way: we don't have to put up with this shit. It's really not good enough. You deserve better, we all do.

Ignoring the shit and focusing on the good stuff is okay if you're a radio show, or a DJ, or just someone who wants to live a happy life listening to great music. But it's not music criticism. We don't work in a vacuum; we have ideas above our station, as everybody should, because we think that the little things we do add up. If you just talk about the nice stuff that makes you feel comfortable and pleased with yourself but you never call out the bullshit, then you are failing to pay your rent on the planet. It extends to everything you do; it extends to politics. There is something dangerous about supporting what is comfortable and lazy without ever challenging anything that is uncomfortable or complicated. Reality is more important than anodyne comfortableness and self-congratulation; you know this, but Arcade Fire don't seem to. I have no idea what their politics are, and I don’t care. I’m talking about this album, and this album is exactly what none of us needs right now.

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