There is a recurring “Saturday Night Live” sketch where the cast is a high school improv group and all of their acts are supposed to make dramatic statements about “society,” but end up being straight-up absurd. Well, Arcade Fire’s new album, “Everything Now,” is essentially this skit in music form but without the intention of being funny. Upbeat and theatrical with pop and electronic elements, not only is the album a big departure musically from the band’s feisty indie roots, but the themes “Everything Now” touches on—such as insatiable consumerism, media over-stimulation and psychologically-ingrained societal expectations—are radically different for the band. While this new direction for Arcade Fire sounds pretentious but not particularly low-quality or laughable on paper, the way it was executed was lousy—the ideas are presented in very cliché and shallow ways in addition to the melodies of the songs be- ing either too overwhelming or lacking charm.
Arcade Fire has produced five albums since 2001, with the band’s 2010 album “The Suburbs” establishing them as a quintessential contemporary indie band. Before “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire’s collection consisted of darker songs with beautiful piano melodies and lyrics that were often relatable and down to earth. With “Reflektor” in 2015, their sound adopted a groovier edge with more electronic elements. While the band has changed over time, “Everything Now” is still vastly different from any of their prior albums and wholly unexpected in sounds and themes.
The album begins with the song “Everything-Now (continued),” a short 46-second electronic sound bite that has the lead singer singing, “I’m in the black again / Not coming back again / We can just pretend / We’ll make it home again / From everything now.” At first, the song sounds interesting—it harkens back to the band’s original darkness with a different musical approach. Not so fast, though —right after the lead singer says his last line, the song plummets into a cringe-worthy chaotic noise that irritatingly resurfaces throughout the album.
The album then flows into the incredibly upbeat title song. The lead singer moans, “This happy family with everything now / We turn the speakers up till they break / ’Cause every time you smile it’s a fake! / Stop pretending, you’ve got… Everything now,” while backup singers repeat “Everything now!” The intensity of the first two songs with the repetition of the cheesy lyric of “Everything now!” makes the album seem like it’s a soundtrack to some sort of over-the-top trendy musical. However, the intended criticality of the lyrics is incredibly hard to take seriously. The band might as well have just repeated a clip of Cecily Strong saying “society” in a sassy tone for their chorus.
Further, “Signs of Life” is equally over-dramatic and ridiculous as it starts with some police sirens. Trying to promote the idea that no one is truly living in this day and age, the song then becomes very theatrical with backup singers and the cliché lyrics “Those cool kids / Stuck in the past / Apartments of cigarette ash.” The song is followed by the electronic “Creature Comfort,” which touches on topics of suicide, body image and self-hate. They begin the song with “Some boys hate themselves / Spend their lives resenting their fathers / Some girls hate their bodies / Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback.” While these are very serious topics, I felt like they weren’t discussed in the song with any type of ingenuity or depth. In fact, the song sounded as if the band was just shouting out thoughtless lines that just merely mentioned the issues in which they were suppose to analyze which made the song’s critical edge utterly weak.
The one song that could be considered somewhat interesting is “Electric Blue.” While it tries to make a statement that no one is truly an individual and that we don’t know what love is, it can still be appreciated for having a groovy beat.
Although it is clear the album is over-the-top, and can come off a little ditzy in the lyric department, my main disappointment has to do with how it succumbed to a certain alt-pop that is so common in the alternative music genre these days. The album can’t really be considered indie or alternative—it is pop music. I’m not trying to say that there is no merit in pop music, but “Everything Now” wasn’t even well-done pop music and I was shocked that my beloved Arcade Fire, an indie bastion of my childhood, had completely changed its ways.
What is even more infuriating is that this specific destruction of the Arcade Fire sound was intentional. It is supposed to be a trashy pop album complete with moments of unpleasant noise and sickeningly hallow lyrics for it to make its full statement about “society.” The band even created a whole marketing campaign for the album before it was released to embrace the album’s themes. They created a website called www.everythingnow.com that is decorated with intense flashing visuals and large graphic text including a sign that says “Your computer may have infinite content” to emphasize the album’s brand of media over-stimulation. They even wrote a review of their own album and created fake news articles and products to endorse this media-entangled, hyper-consumerist theme. With this pretentiousness, it’s really hard to not laugh at this album.
The moral of the story is, do yourself a favor and skip “Everything Now,” especially if you are an original fan.