Review: On ‘Everything Now,’ Arcade Fire critiques — and embraces — the too-much-ness of the Internet
The Internet gave life to Arcade Fire.
In the mid-2000s this indie-rock band from Montreal broke out as one of the earliest beneficiaries of an online music culture engineered for hype. Websites such as Pitchfork and Stereogum wrote rapturously about the group, while fans in the thousands downloaded its songs from the MP3 blogs that helped drive music discovery in the era before digital streaming.
A decade and change later, that same platform for endless stimulation has begun to feel like a kind of death to Win Butler, Arcade Fire’s eagerly grandiose frontman.
“Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time / It’s absurd!” Butler sings in the title track from the band’s new album, “Everything Now.” Drowning in the river of data gushing from his phone, he goes on to complain, “Every inch of space in my heart is filled with something I’ll never start.”
Another tune, “Creature Comfort,” describes the bleak aspirations of kids who’ve grown up in the YouTube Age — “God, make me famous / If you can’t, just make it painless” — while a third, “Signs of Life,” admits to finding none to speak of.
Perhaps Butler should’ve looked inward.
For all its anxiety about the smothering, alienating effects of the Internet, Arcade Fire’s fifth studio album actually sounds remarkably lively — far from the dour, stripped-down folk record we might’ve gotten from a band gone proudly off the grid.
Instead, “Everything Now” is a critique of too-much-ness that cleverly embraces the very overload it laments.
Produced by the band along with collaborators including Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, it combines disparate styles and textures and references with an almost giddy intensity: pan flute and spaghetti-western strings over juicy disco bass in the title track; close-harmony Bee Gees backing vocals in “Signs of Life”; the murky dub beat in “Peter Pan” that sounds like it’s blowing out your speakers even at low volume.
For the two-part “Infinite Content” — built around an unfortunate play on words in which Butler tweaks the song’s title to proclaim himself “infinitely content” — the group jams on a blistering punk riff for 90 seconds before suddenly switching gears to a half-time country lope. And then there’s “Good God Damn,” which might outdo Arcade Fire’s peers in Spoon in its unashamed cribbing from the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.”
The disco and funk stuff isn’t entirely new for Butler and his mates, who started out in an earnest, guitar-oriented mode that drew frequent comparisons to late-’80s U2 — and led to a Grammy Award for album of the year with 2010’s “The Suburbs.”
Four years ago Arcade Fire hired James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to pump up the rhythms on its previous album, “Reflektor.” (That disc’s title track also foreshadowed Butler’s worries about the dangers of Instagram: “We fell in love when I was 19,” he sang, “And now we’re staring at a screen.”)
But “Reflektor” lacked killer tunes to go with its propulsive grooves, whereas this album is filled with them — including two separate tracks that recall Abba.
In “Everything Now” it’s impossible not to think of “Dancing Queen” as the song’s descending piano hook rings out; later, “Put Your Money on Me” echoes the candied suspense of the brilliant Swedish quartet’s “Money, Money, Money.”
Other cuts are nearly as catchy, even as the players pile on the production tricks some bands might’ve used to disguise weak songwriting. At a moment when the Weeknd and Pharrell Williams have scored huge Top 40 hits working with Daft Punk, Arcade Fire seems closer to the pop mainstream than it ever has.
Which may be yet another source of uneasiness for Butler. As part of its marketing campaign for the album, the band recently built a fake version of one of those adoring websites from the old days — it’s called Stereoyum — and posted a parody review of “Everything Now” in which the writer criticizes the record before he’s even heard it.
You can understand what the group is getting at, particularly its frustration with the perceived need to form instant opinions that guides so much culture writing online. But the stunt also feels bitter and defensive, as though Butler is convinced that anyone who doesn’t like his album, or who might find it crassly commercial, is just too dumb to get it.
Pretty rich for a guy who claims to know what’s wrong with the Internet.
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