New Music: Arcade Fire – Everything Now

So, the title track from Arcade Fire’s fifth album is amongst us at last – courtesy of some nifty marketing at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, when it magically appeared on vinyl prior to a secret set witnessed by James (who will no doubt have plenty to say about it). So I thought I’d get in there first.

At the time of writing, Arcade Fire are commencing a pre-album tour (it’s released on 28 July) – one which carries on to December. The band played the exquisite Roman Theatre in Lyon on 5th June, which was built in 15 BC, before arcanely transferring to Scunthorpe Baths Hall two days later, where the show was modestly advertised as “Arcade Fire warm up for the Isle of Wight Festival with a show at The Baths Hall!” They might have added, ‘Next Week: Amy Housewine – a top notch tribute act!!’

That sort of dichotomy, of toying with reality by way of often indecipherable grand statements of intent and contradiction, is what Arcade Fire are all about. ‘Everything Now’ is representative of the way Win Butler and Regine Chassagne have looked at the world across much of their previous output in songs like ‘Neon Bible’, and large parts of both The Suburbs and Reflektor. Coming to terms with modern technology and its implications has particularly concerned the pair in the past – and in ‘Everything Now’, they’re on the case of the on-demand culture, immediacy and indulgence once again. The line that sums the song up best of all is “Everything Now…’til every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without.”

I notice that one critic perceives a greater degree of optimism in Butler’s lyrics here, suggesting that he can handle these themes and the paradox of real and fake better than he could some of his prior unease. I’m not so sure. Any song that contains the words black, break and fake twice, alongside scar, ashes and shit can hardly be classed as sanguine. And that doleful voice in the opening bars as the band wanders around what looks like an abandoned Area 51, with spaceships or ICBMs launching in the distance in the official video below, would make anyone reach for the happy pills.

But while that might be the case with the lyrics, it isn’t with the music once those opening bars are completed. I said in a recent ‘Classic Song’ review that Abba might reform in 2017. They don’t need to. Arcade Fire has done it for them.  From about 45 seconds in the song is unadulterated Abba, flavoured with bits of ABC, Deacon Blue and other 1980’s favourites, and with a hint of a nod to Bowie. It bears no comparison with the Arcade Fire I was raised on (2005-2007), nor with the convolutedly dance-oriented Reflektor, except that parts of it could be identified as straightforward disco.

Time moves on. The speculation over what direction Arcade Fire might take two albums on from winning the most prestigious music prize on the planet is over. Now we know; well, at least we have one song to go on. It isn’t Reflektor 2.0, nor is it a return to ‘Rebellion’, ‘Wake Up!’ or ‘No Cars Go’. It has melody, and it is deep and meaningful while falling just short of bombastic. Standard Arcade Fire issue. It’s a pretty good song all round. But it isn’t really memorable. It wouldn’t have made the Abba’s Greatest Hits Compilation. Hopefully the unforgettable songs on this album are yet to be heard.

©D J Bentley, 2017