You know when you see someone trying to be so deliberately quirky and contrary that it starts to make your eyes roll? That’s sort of the state Arcade Fire are in at the moment, indie and pop rogues who delight in subverting expectation and creating album campaigns that seemingly don’t give a fuck about anything other than their own insouciance.
But in continuing to do so they become predictable, and deliver an album like Everything Now. Which isn’t bad in the slightest, but it brings together all the elements we’ve become familiar with when it comes to Arcade Fire and polishes the fuck out of them. Take the title track for example (no, not either of the – sigh – “Continued” versions): it pulses with guitar and dance-house piano, stirring with strings and of course the usual chanting in and around the chorus. It’s Arcade Fire by numbers, something the band has never really been.
Arcade Fire are certainly evolving, and they’re embracing their pop side more than ever. Signs Of Life takes on tick-box disco and cranks it up, but in the hands of Win Butler and co it shines bright enough. But their commentaries on modern malaise ring more awkward than incisive, especially on Creature Comfort. A deconstruction of fame and anxiety, it’s too obvious (“God make me famous, if you can just make it dangerous”) while throwing out phrases like ‘assisted suicide’ in between lines about eating disorders.
But where Arcade Fire were once at the forefront of reflecting issues, they now just seem a bit disgruntled, almost looking down on millennials. The theme of lost youth is sledgehammer-subtle on Peter Pan, but the sound itself doesn’t help them on Chemistry. It’s arguably their worst to date, blending rock and reggaeton for a song that will make your parents feel better about themselves as they shuffle to it at Latitude.
Once the insufferable mid-section wanes (two short songs called Infinite Content? How bold, how novel, how intelligent), things pick up with Put Your Money On Me. Though this is all Arcade Fire without the fire, words that are trite, and Everything Now becomes rather prescient as a title. This is a portrait of the world and its sound right now, the mediocrity that sells, but beyond 2017 it’ll be hard to think of this as anything other than a cute little time capsule.