Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” rests on an admittedly timely conceit (and I do mean that in both senses of the word): namely, that Internet culture, and the corporatized oversaturation of content it has wrought, is transforming both how we access and interpret information — potentially, and in the band’s constantly restated opinion, for the worse.
The Montreal indie-rock outlet took great care to stress its current social anxiety throughout a meta-marketing campaign encompassing everything from fidget spinners to a faux “Stereoyum” music review site. As with “Reflektor” (an underwhelming, overlong album focused on technology’s isolating impact), it may prove difficult to separate the band’s new music — its fifth LP and second since “The Suburbs,” the Grammy-awarded magnum opus Arcade Fire has seemed desperate to outrun ever since its release — from the overblown manner in which it was promoted.
If that’s intentional on Arcade Fire’s part, it’s one of several instances over the past few years in which the band has mistaken patronizing claptrap for perceptive commentary. Once a truly awe-inspiring, anthemic band that amplified rich ideas through elaborate arrangements, Arcade Fire may have all but lost itself during a recent transition to cynical dance-rock, one that, likely intended to keep fans on their toes, seems more likely to alienate them.
To wit, there’s nearly nothing left of early Arcade Fire’s poignant lyricism or cathartic sweep on “Everything Now.” Instead, the band has doubled down on snotty yet trite social criticism (“Infinite content, infinite content, we’re infinitely content” is the grating refrain of not one but two tracks) and sonic experiments that more often than not come crashing down.
The supremely icky “Creature Comfort” exemplifies the band’s self-aggrandizement at its most off-putting with the lyric, “Assisted suicide she dreams about dying all the time/ she told me she came so close/ filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.” Meanwhile, “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry” could duke it out for the title of Arcade Fire’s worst-ever song, the former a mawkish mess flecked with unwieldy ska, and the latter incorporating ill-advised honky-tonk and a listless guitar riff.
“Everything Now” improves in its final third, especially when Regine Chassagne unleashes her airy falsetto across the lovely “Electric Blue.” There, and on melancholy meditations “Put Your Money on Me” and “We Don’t Deserve Love,” Arcade Fire is operating in a far more fruitful groove. It leaves you yearning for an album that would have expanded the mature melodicism of those three tracks. Instead, their presence magnifies the smarmy, sophomoric awfulness of everything else here.