This fifth Arcade Fire album could be subtitled “Content and its Discontents”. Everything Now takes as its starting point the vast terabytes of cultural perma-chatter that fill our shrinking attention spans. The Roman writer Juvenal identified “bread and circuses” as the tool by which emperors kept the populace mollified. We’re well into circuses 2.0, engulfed by mental flotsam put out by an array of friends, brands, bands, news organisations, presidents (sad!) and record reviewers.
All this “infinite content” keeps us distracted – “infinitely content”, as Win Butler rails on the punky Infinite Content. (A second, country take called Infinite_Content reiterates the point.) To illustrate further, the Montreal band have created a flurry of spoof fidget-spinner USB sticks and pre-emptive reviews of their own album, eye-rolling at corporations, record reviewers and marketing itself. The other night they tried to annoy people by instigating a hip and trendy dress code for their album launch gig.
Everything Now isn’t quite that record, although it periodically comes very close. It’s another big-hearted party album for the end of the world – in the spirit, if not the style, of Gorillaz’s Humanz – and restates Arcade Fire’s rousing, compassionate raison d’être in new iterations. Collaborators such as Steve Mackey (ex-Pulp) and Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) join returnee producer Markus Dravs in fleshing out Arcade Fire’s evolving sound.
The lead single and title track chucks a big joyful dose of Abba disco at the void, while Win Butler rails at the surfeit of stimulation. “Every song that I’ve ever heard/ Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd,” he sings. Signs of Life is another dancefloor-ready cut that takes aim at the party lifestyle itself, not unlike Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm.
Creature Comfort’s harrowing theme – putting a record on and filling a bathtub in readiness for a suicide – returns on Good God Damn, another sensational turn that’s lean, slinky and tinged with Bowie and funk. “Maybe there’s a good God… damn,” wonders Butler, in the persona of the narrator. In these songs, real empathy is delivered in style.
Maybe we should excuse the polemics and trust Arcade Fire more. “Put your money on me,” sings Butler. He’s more than aware of the financial pun. But he’s vowing to be there for a lover – or is it us? – nonetheless.