Music Reviews
Everything Now

Arcade Fire Everything Now

(Columbia Records) Rating - 6/10

Arcade Fire’s music has always contained an undeniable, unquantifiable spark. Each album, from Funeral to Reflektor, had the unique ability to combine gravity with weightlessness. Every fiber of your being would shout and dance in the hopes of launching off the planet with them. But on Everything Now, that spark has faded in favor of overblown lyrics and weak songwriting.

Let’s lay all the cards on the table. There’s more bad here than good. Many of the tracks on the group’s fifth album range from insubstantial and outright terrible. Diving into disco proves to be a failed experiment, lacking any lift off. Signs of Life tries to emulate Bowie’s slick 1984, but instead lands on a generic 70s crime drama theme. Win Butler’s half-rap delivery doesn’t help. Chemistry is worse, its blurting, boring horns matching poorly with the dark, stalker lyrics.

In fact, many of the lyrics on Everything Now are downright atrocious. In years past, some lines could cause an eye roll (I’m looking at you Rococo), but they were saved by the music and a down-to-Earth perspective. Here? Rather than a we’re-in-this-together attitude, it feels like Win is talking down to the audience. For some reason, the band thought it was a good idea to have not one, but two songs called Infinite Content. On both versions, Win sings out the title, followed by “We're infinitely content.” Ha, so clever! It sounds like a frat bro who took a philosophy course and keeps spouting what he thinks are pearls of wisdom. Then there’s Peter Pan. This half-cooked demo contains wonders like: “Be my Wendy, I'll be your Peter Pan/Come on baby, take my hand/We can walk if we don't feel like flying/We can live, I don't feel like dying.” Ugh.

Good God Damn is no better, reheating the scratchy guitar riff from It’s Never Over and giving us a laughably-bad delivery from Win. It’s one of two songs that take on the difficult subject of suicide. The other number, the divisive Creature Comfort, is bolstered by the music and vocals. It fuses a motorized rhythm with sweetly-sour synth notes. Régine Chassagne screams out her lyrics with all the pain and frustration demanded by a song about teens struggling with suicidal thoughts. The music fades out for a minute so Win can quietly sing, “It's not painless/She was a friend of mine/And we're not nameless.” It’s a powerful moment among the chaos. But then he’s back to preacher mode about American prosperity.

Even with the immense flaws of Everything Now, this band is still capable of magic. The title track successfully mixes Arcade Fire, ABBA and Toto’s Africa. Its sunrise piano, zooming strings and earworm chorus will make this a fan favorite for years to come. Electric Blue shines thanks to Régine, who sings at the top of her range over a sharp groove. It’s a stunning performance that’s distinctive among her other leads.

It’s the closing songs that excel and recapture all that makes Arcade Fire special. Put Your Money On Me brings together a feet-moving bass line and echoing piano chords among electronic touches. It sounds like a lost LCD Soundsystem song and a great one at that. At one point, Win sings, “Trumpets of angels call for my head,” and backing vocals come in like the heavens just opened. It’s a beautiful, spine-tingling moment. We Don’t Deserve Love rides along a synth line that wavers like an alien signal falling in and out of range. Then the chorus hits and the full band comes in with a marching beat. Win and Régine passionately sing their hearts out. Everything joins together for a transcendent conclusion. Like their best songs, you’ll smile and tear up at the same time.

For the most part, Everything Now is a massive disappointment, a big stumble in Arcade Fire’s career. It’s their weakest album by far. But there are segments of radiant brilliance that will make you wonder what could have been. Going forward, the band needs to regain their balance and find that grounded perspective while reaching for the stars again.