Everything Now: Arcade Fire turn from indie rock torchbearers to disco tricksters     

Prahlad Srihari

Dec,14 2017 14:02:48 IST

Editor's note: In the run up to the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on 28 January 2018, Firstpost will be taking a closer look at all the major albums and artists from among the nominees. 

As soon as the opening chords of Arcade Fire's "Wake up" trickle out of your headphones, it triggers a rush of pleasure-soaked dopamine into your brain. As the first few notes are strung together, you experience the "chills" as your neck is covered in goosebumps. You get choked up and before you know it, tears of joy come streaming down your face.

There are few artists who could consistently trigger such a powerfully visceral emotional response out of us like the Montreal-based indie-rock collective. But unfortunately their most recent album, Everything Now, marks their official departure from an indie-rock to a more dance-friendly soundscape.

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Arcade Fire in a promo for Everything Now. Twitter/ArcadeFire

By bringing operatic grandeur, cathartic anthems and a whole lot of smugness to the indie music scene, Arcade Fire became the progenitors of a renaissance in the 2000s. When they broke out with the release of their phenomenal debut Funeral in 2004, some of their early champions included David Bowie and Talking Heads front-man David Byrne. For years, the impassioned tenor and fervid protestations of the band's music spoke our truths and spoke them from the heart. With each album, it felt like they were looking to share some profound revelation of blinding conviction. Always looking to evolve and expand their sound, they toured with a personalised portable orchestra of accordionists, cellists, violinists, keyboardists and other multi-instrumentalists (who played xylophone, glockenspiel, harp, mandolin, synth and hurdy-gurdy to name a few). They added as many members and instruments as one could fit on stage to perform their opulently-arranged epic ballads and symphonies.

From the elegiac champer pop melodies of the genre-defining Funeral (2004) to the bleak, organic sounds of Neon Bible (2007) to their nostalgia-rekindling ode to suburban sprawl and middle-class malaise in The Suburbs (2010), Arcade Fire became the megaphone of our generation. They were the perfect musical detox after a hangover of contrived pop and unambitious rock music. Then came a discernible stylistic change in 2013's double disc disco-tinged Reflektor. Though it didn't sweep you off your feet right away, it did sneak up on you after a few listens. Produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, the album was an energetic but unapologetic statement that the band was moving in a completely new direction.

Indie rock band Arcade Fire performs at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, California October 29, 2013. The band staged an impromptu concert to promote their new album "Reflektor". REUTERS/Gene Blevins (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) - GM1E9AU0YCQ01

Arcade Fire staged an impromptu concert to promote their album, Reflektor, at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, California in 2013. Reuters

With Everything Now, Arcade Fire complete their transition to their dance-rock — and apparently irony-laden — avatar. Sadly, they are way out of their comfort zones having reinvented themselves by moving in a direction that takes them away from authenticity rather than towards it.

So, exit: poignant meditations, bohemian splendour, dramatic crescendos, string-laced opuses, socially conscious lyrics and all that made them likeable in the first place.

And enter: new wave dance anthems, arbitary arrangments, lazy songwriting, substandard production and Win Butler's faux profundity as he puffs out his chest and indulges himself in OTT balladry.

Despite boasting an all-star team of producers like Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and Portishead's Geoff Barrow along with the band's longtime collaborator Markus Dravs, Everything Now is unfortunately a pretty inconsistent and ultimately slipshod effort from the Canadian outfit. It doesn't quite dazzle you like how even parts of Reflektor did, although that's more a testament to the benchmark the band has set over the years.

Arcade Fire's fifth album has been its most divisive one yet as the band flirt with ‘70s disco funk ("Signs of Life"), ska fusion ("Chemistry"), country ("Infinite_ Content") and even dancehall reggae ("Peter Pan"). There is far less concern for melody in this 13-song collection as Win Butler's failings as a composer and lyricist are truly exposed.

Exhibit A:

Be my Wendy, I’ll be your Peter Pan

Come on baby, take my hand

Exhibit B:

We turn the speakers up till they break

’Cause every time you smile it’s a fake

Stop pretending

We can go on but we're "infinitely content" with the aforementioned samples for now.

The straightforward piano-driven hook and sing-along chorus of the title track gives off ABBA's "Dancing Queen" vibes. Though the song feels a bit bloated and overdrawn, it still is one of the album's few highlights. The grooves, power chords and synth sequences of "Creature Comfort" is reminiscent of Reflektor's electronic inclinations. Its unsettling lyrics describe a suicidal fan who nearly kills herself while listening to Funeral (“She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record / Saying God, make me famous / If you can’t just make it painless”). While the song is supposed to be a commentary on the dark side of fame, the band's self-conscious wink to their own work seems patronising. "Electric Blue” is no “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” nor is it "In The Backseat" but is still tolerable as Régine Chassagne tries to push her falsetto to its extremes.

In the lead-up to the album's release, the band created a fake global corporation called EN (Everything Now), sold $109 fidget spinner USB drives, wrote a bizarre fake Stereoyum “Premature Premature Evaluation” review of the album, launched a custom-made Creature Comfort-brand cereal boxes and imposed a strict dress code to their shows.

After a while, it begins to feel like “hipster Paul Bunyan” Win Butler is trying to deliver a dissertation on his musings of our over-saturated information age, rather than write a record worthy of being included in Arcade Fire's canon. Perhaps, the last time any member from Arcade Fire composed something that triggered any emotional response was when William Butler and Owen Pallett collaborated on the soundtrack for Spike Jonze's Her. So, with Everything Now’s pseudo-political ballads of rolling-paper thin sentiment, Arcade Fire have become the kind of band whose discography you describe as, “I don't particularly care for their new stuff. But I do love their earlier work.”

When Arcade Fire won the Album of the Year award for The Suburbs — beating the likes of Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry — at the 2011 Grammy’s, Win Butler in his acceptance speech went “What the hell?”

That’s perhaps the most apt description of the band’s transition. Just, WHAT THE HELL???!!!

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2017 17:47 PM