Arcade Fire has always had big ideas. Ever since the seminal Funeral was released 13 years ago, the band has operated as the 2000s most arena-ready rock act, earning that distinction on the heels of anthemic tracks such as “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” “Wake Up,” “Intervention,” “No Cars Go,” “Ready to Start” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” 2013’s Reflektor was the first sign of cracks in the armor, as the band’s overstuffed, double-disc fourth LP allowed for their least interesting ideas to take shape next to towering cuts such as the title-track and “Afterlife.” With their fifth studio album, Everything Now, the band is still preaching big ideas, but with none of the empathy that made their previous albums universal.
To understand why the album doesn’t work, you have to first understand how it does work. Everything Now‘s title-track is the one song here that feels true to the Arcade Fire we’ve known since Funeral, a song as anthemic and warm as their tentpoles from previous albums. Deride the ABBA-aping if you must, but there’s a sincerity here that quickly evaporates as the album progresses. Following tracks “Sings of Life” and “Creature Comfort” turn a downward eye on their audience; it’s as if “We Exist” never existed. “Comfort”, in particular, nauseatingly uses an anecdote told to Win Butler about a girl who attempted suicide listening to Funeral, and it’s done in such a way that it’s hard to tell what Butler is attempting to convey with that line. Is it a humbling moment, the effect his band’s music has, or is there guilt involved? The worst reading, the one that the song’s muscularity brings to the forefront, is one of indifference, apathy. It’s the first time you could ever possibly say that about this band.
Everything Now hits its nadir with the quagmire that is “Peter Pan,” “Chemistry” and “Infinite Content”/”Infinite_Content,” a trio of songs that are some of the most grating, least compelling songs in the Arcade Fire repertoire. “Peter Pan” takes cues from Reflektor‘s “Flashbulb Eyes,” but the song never really takes flight. “Chemistry” has the wonkiness of something like the Avalanches’ “Frankie Sinatra” but none of the self-awareness. And it’s the “Infinite Content” suite that really drives home the album’s ultimate failings. They are the same song lyrically, but one is a hard-charging rocker in the vein of “Month of May” while the other is an acoustically-driven meditation. “Infinite content, infinite content / We’re infinitely content,” Butler repeats throughout the song, aiming for epiphany but landing on the obvious. It’s 2017; we all know how much content there is to distract us. It’s most disappointing, then, how quickly, comfortably, Arcade Fire jump into the abyss themselves, resigning their music to becoming just another part of all this – as they deride it – “infinite content.”