Arcade Fire have spent a career making a virtue of their own pomposity. Since 2004 debut ‘Funeral’, they’ve been unafraid to wrestle with big ideas that most bands wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. If it sometimes appears as though they believe society’s ills can be solved, or at least diagnosed, through the medium of grandiose art-rock records, you nonetheless have to admire their conviction that music ought to represent something more than mere ‘content’. Thankfully, after the ambitious-but-uneven ‘Reflektor’ (2013), ‘Everything Now’ marks an emphatic return to those lofty standards.
“Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time, it’s absurd,” declares starry-eyed frontman Win Butler on the album’s title-track, which is certainly one way to describe its mash-up of ‘Dancing Queen’ and Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’. Uplifting, incisive and sublime would be another.
On the flipside, the empty hedonism of ‘Signs of Life’ and the self-loathing, suicidal youths of ‘Creature Comfort’ – one of whom, Butler notes, “Came so close/ Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record,” – serve as a reminder of the cruel irony that in this age of total connectivity, we’ve somehow contrived to make ourselves more isolated and alone than ever. ‘Everything Now’ might occasionally marvel at how far we’ve come, but it’s tempered by notes of dread at where we’re going.
Aptly enough for a record about information overload, it’s also had the veritable kitchen sink thrown at it, employing myriad styles, multiple big-name producers and the sort of ingenious, overblown marketing campaign that’s become the norm for this band. On the two-hander of ‘Infinite Content’ and ‘Infinite_Content’, the same song is presented in contrasting styles – one as a knowing postmodern thrash, the other as a languid acoustic ramble – but ultimately it’s the album’s sense of humanity, not its innate clever-cleverness, that elevates it to something special. “If you can’t see the forest for the trees, just burn it all down,” urges Butler as the mournful synth-pop of closing track ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ builds to its climax, no longer sermonising from his pulpit, but howling in empathy from the ether.