Arcade Fire’s fifth album begins with an ending. Rather than opening with the anthemic title track and lead single, ‘Everything Now’ instead starts with a 46 second prologue that ends as abruptly as it begins. Upon first listening, it seems like a rather odd way to start the album; stay the length of the record’s 47 minutes, though, and it starts to make more sense. After the climactic ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ ends the album proper in typically surging, passionate fashion, the LP throws a partially unexpected addendum into the mix. The album’s true final song reprises that same understated melancholy that began the album and – when stitched together with that opening prologue – forms a complete song.
It’s both a nod to the kind of fanaticism that the band’s previous efforts have inspired and also a circuitous touch that lends the record a degree of symbolism and weight – nothing new for a group long known for sweeping, grandiose statements. It’s certainly a clever touch but perhaps self-consciously so; frontman Win Butler has never been shy of levering lofty ambition into his band’s work and, for the most part, such aspiration has been well articulated and has played a big part in the group’s impact. Therein, perhaps, lies a problem however; from a musical perspective Arcade Fire have overtly shifted towards a stadium-ready, hook-centric sound that isn’t a total departure from past works but certainly exaggerates the group’s most accessible aspects. From a thematic and lyrical perspective, however, both the band and Butler are still tackling weighty themes and there are times when these two differing approaches don’t quite gel.
There are certainly moments when Butler’s heavy-hitting lyricism fits well with the group’s new aesthetic; ‘Creature Comfort’ deals with self-hatred and suicide but sets those themes against a backing of pristine hooks and surging, anthemic disco prowess. In writing it sounds like an awkward combination but in practice it works excellently and leads to the best example of what Arcade Fire are capable of doing with their new direction. Elsewhere, however, Butler’s ambition can cause the album to stumble. ‘Infinite Content’ may make valid points on consumer culture and instant gratification but it’s not enough to elevate the song from being rather dull, the lethargic stomp of ‘Chemistry’ likewise too plodding to really standout.
Forgive the album a few blunders, however, and it’s easy to find much to enjoy here. The slick, Abba-inflected disco groove of the title track is soaring and infectious, whilst the slinky synth-soul of ‘Electric Blue’ stands out as a gem of beguiling style and confident strut. Throughout the album, Arcade Fire confirm themselves as a great pop band; while that’s not exactly news – they’ve never been a group to struggle with writing great hooks – their aspirations here are more overtly stadium-sized than ever before. They’ve long produced anthemic music but the fact that even the studio version of the title track features a breakdown, wherein the “crowd” singalong to the main melody line, should give a good indication of the band’s ambitions here.
‘Everything Now’ is a definite move in a new direction for Arcade Fire, but it’s not as radical a shift as some have been quick to suggest. The band have long flirted with danceable, rigorous beats and suave, glammy chic (see 2013’s ‘Reflektor’ for proof of that) and whilst they do focus more extensively on anthemic, feel-good pop and luscious melodies here than before, the off-beat charm that made them such an initially appealing act remains mostly in tact, as evidenced by Butler’s reliably idiosyncratic lyricism and delivery. Whilst ‘Everything Now’ may stumble at times, the record’s overall impact is one positive enough that its inconsistencies are easy to overlook. At its best, ‘Everything Now’ is soaring, majestic stuff and very hard to resist.