Everything Everything’s albums are waves, breaking as maximalist pop and bundles of unbridled ideas in debut ‘Man Alive’, and retreating into the sleeker, restrained sounds of ‘Arc’. To drag out a metaphor, 2015’s ‘Get to Heaven’ was a tsunami, tearing into modern culture with pop abandon – which leaves the aftermath, new album A’ Fever Dream’, as an intriguing prospect. Will the quartet turn back into themselves? Will they continue down a road of chart domination?
As it turns out, it’s a combination of the two; A Fever Dream aims (and mostly lands) straight down the middle, balancing chart-threatening pop with softer, strange soundscapes. The band head further into each territory than ever before, stretching both the album and their sound to polarising limits. Take the mid-album trilogy of ‘Ivory Tower’, ‘New Deep’ and the title track. Shared as an album teaser earlier in the campaign, ‘A Fever Dream’ commits fully to its house piano riffs. As a standalone track it doesn’t quite make sense – but in the album’s context it’s hypnotic, stealthily lulling listeners into a nightmare world. ‘Ivory Tower’ is the band at their blistering best – a barbed takedown of the London bubble post-Brexit, post-Trump, backed by sparking guitars and ending in a tumultuous, grin-inducing cacophony. Finally, ‘New Deep’ marks a first for the band in being stereotypically ‘experimental’. Whilst in the past, pushing the edges of their sound has meant cramming 5 songs into one (or something equally absurd), ‘New Deep’ is a shapeless trip of field recordings, and echoing piano. It’s a beautiful bookend.
Reminders of the band’s last two years on tour smatter the album, with tracks drenched in programmed synths and drum machine beats. Everything sounds slightly analogue, be it the ambient background noise on ‘New Deep’ or the natural synth echo on demonic opener ‘Night of the Long Knives’.
Ditching the trappings of art-pop for art-pop’s sake, A Fever Dream is direct and confident. ‘White Whale’ is the band at their most Radiohead yet, a ghostly choir backing Jonathan Higgs’ nasal falsetto. Lyrically, it’s delightfully concise, and at surface level directly addresses an unrequited love – though there’s surely more at play. As a closer, it breaks the Everything Everything curse of ill fitting final tracks, and brings A Fever Dream to a stirring, optimistic climax, in spite of all the personal-political vitriol spewed earlier. It’s perhaps the most surprising track on the album, a gorgeously conducted exercise in restraint and classical songwriting – possibly not the first two words that come to mind when discussing Everything Everything.
A Fever Dream works as an album not only because it achieves so much, but because it manages to make it sound cohesive and with a purpose. On reflection, you could run down the tracklist and easily assign each song to one of their past three albums, so different has their back catalogue been. Luckily, the band resurface relevant and challenging, expansive and introspective, divisive and uniting. The record plays control against confusion. They part the Red Sea and dance in no man’s land. At heart, A Fever Dream is a coalition of chaos – and a pretty fucking spectacular one at that.