The cool kids have been all over this, saying Arcade Fire have lost the plot. The Pitchfork review opens with “The pale, joyless songs don’t transcend their social critique — they succumb to it,” which merely shows, as the Canadians would say, they don’t know what they’re talking aboot.
This is as good as Arcade Fire’s stunning debut, just in a different way. How anyone can say the songs are joyless is a mystery; they’re about as joyFUL as any music we’ve heard this year. Arcade Fire anticipated this of course, with Signs Of Life opening: “Those cool kids stuck in the past / Apartments of cigarette ash … “
Pitchfork’s comment about “social critique” is because the album tackles the vapidity of consumerism, including the fact that bands are expected to deliver the same thing every time or they’ve failed, presumably. The pre-launch marketing for the album included a Twitter account designed to look like a Russian spambot and a Facebook post purportedly from a disgruntled “Everything Now Corp” employee railing against the band’s refusal to engage in corporate promotion of its new album.
The lyrics address the superficiality, whether it’s kids who are too cool for school, pointless consumerism or the warping effects of ridiculous body image propagated by certain elements of the media etc.
Musically, it’s a change in direction, but with Arcade Fire enlisting the help of Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Steve Mackey (Pulp bassist) and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow (as well as Markus Dravs back on production), they’d’ve had to have tried hard to make it fail.
The sound is Abba meets New Order meets LCD Soundsystem (or Daft Punk): the familiar Arcade Fire sound is transmogrified by Abba-style hooks, the drum-machine drumming of New Order’s Stephen Morris (itself krautrock influenced), and a fair amount of synth work.
We were massive fans of early Arcade Fire, their atmospheric and brilliant Funeral being one of the best rock albums ever. Since then, they’re just been redefining their sound and we’d got a little bored; the last album had its moment but it was a little flat.
Opener and title track Everything Now explicitly lays out the change, with its Abba-style piano refrain and even Dancing Queen’s skip on the drums.
After that it’s just working out which song you like best. There are no bad songs. Everything Now is excellent and we also like, well all of it, from Car Wash style disco track Signs of Life to the Portishead influenced Chemistry.
Arcade Fire are also immense live, taking the audience away from the venue to a different place entirely, and we can’t wait to hear this played in a live setting.