Their latest album shells out infinite content to prove the trappings of ‘Everything Now’
By Timothy Dwenger
With their most recent album, Everything Now, Canada’s groundbreaking and influential darlings, Arcade Fire, have made a powerful, disco-laced statement about the state of our world in a poetic, intelligent, and artful way.
While it’s chock full of anthemic dance beats that will thrill arena audiences, the lyrical content of Everything Now clings to the sense of hopelessness that has been pervasive in the band’s material since they burst onto the scene with Funeral back in 2004.
Lines like “God, make me famous / If you can’t just make it painless” from “Creature Comfort” and “Every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without” from the album’s title track reinforce the bleakness of the adolescent lives that the band frequently place at the center of their narratives.
It’s these same adolescent lives that are at the focal point of the album’s central thesis — that a constant barrage of information is deadening not only our senses but our ability to process information. It is that message that the band hyped with a massive pre-release marketing campaign that included everything from fake ads for an energy drink called “Chemistry” and an all-marshmallow breakfast cereal called “Creature Comfort” (both titles of songs on Everything Now), to fake news stories on sites mocked up to be spoofs on Billboard (Billlboard), Stereogum (Stereoyum), Entertainment Weekly (Entertainment Weakly) and perhaps the most telling of all, Fast Company (Fact Company). While the band has taken some heat from the media for their cavalier attitude toward fake news, it’s hard not to argue that it was a brilliantly ironic strategy that is maybe being seen as “too soon” by Americans still stinging from Donald Trump’s use of similar tactics during his campaign.
“When we put out a record we try to build a world that the record lives in,” said Will Butler from the band’s Tampa tour stop, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “While you don’t necessarily need it as a listener — you can come upon the album as an innocent and get something out of it — I think for people that are plugged in it’s nice for the band to build a world or a ‘nest’ for the record. I think for this record, the ‘where’ it was coming from was a really crazy colorful mess.”
Inundated by that crazy colorful mess on a daily basis, society navigates the digital world via countless internet sites, social media, and a barrage of “important” notifications that incessantly appear on a more and more pervasive assortment of digital devices. “Part of it was just the vibe in the world as we were wrapping up the album and putting the finishing touches on it,” he said. “You go to Twitter and it’s North Korea developing a nuclear bomb and your friend is playing a show in town and someone said something really offensive and someone said something really funny and it all just runs through your brain and your soul and it’s all just amazing and horrifying.”
The critical part of Bulter’s statement is right there at the end – “it’s all just amazing and horrifying” – and it’s one of the messages that is central to Everything Now — that far too many miss the fact that it is so horrifying and simply see it as amazing. Our culture has gotten to the point where it’s more important to have access to everything than it is to make the most of something.
While it may not be apparent on first listen, Everything Now is much more than just a collection of songs that occasionally flirt with a common theme, it is an innovative concept album that uses the very tracklist to reinforce the message. Butler’s brother Win cleverly plays with the homonym in “Infinite Content’s” title when he sings “Infinite content / We’re infinitely content / All your money is already spent on it” as he again reflects the album’s core message lyrically before many listeners realize the three-minute nineteen second track they think they are listening to is actually a 1:37 track followed by a 1:42 track called “Infinite_Content” (notice the underscore, a technique that is used twice on the album to split one track into two). While the use of two tracks here could be interpreted as just another attempt to generate more “content,” Butler alludes to the very different pacing of the two tracks as he discusses them. “We aren’t a classical band and none of us are great classical musicians — though Regine and Richie and Sarah are very well trained — but I think we are very much influenced by the classical world and the conventions of classical music where you have movements and you have largo and allegro and allegretto and lento and there is something to be said for playing with themes and with tempos and all of that. I think we like working in that way.”
The band also generates the illusion of infinite content by laying out the album in such a way that it appears to never end if you listen to it on repeat on a digital device. The last track, “Everything Now (continued)” is essentially a reprise of the album’s title track and it flows directly into the first track, “Everything_Now (continued).” Sure, starting the album with a reprise of a track that hasn’t been presented yet may be unconventional, and it has surely baffled some more traditional critics, but it again drives home the fact that this project was put together very carefully and every last detail was taken into account. “Our band has always been an albums band,” Butler said. “We put a lot of thought into the songs but we make albums.”
While the six core members of Arcade Fire are certainly the primary creative force behind Everything Now, the band also enlisted Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk and Steve Mackey of Pulp to help the project come to fruition. “All of our producers have had a similar role where they are basically a friend and an outside pair of ears that we trust because we are all cooks in the kitchen and when you already have six cooks in the kitchen, a seventh cook it’s actually better than not,” he said laughing. “The six of us will wrestle about things so it does help to have an outside perspective from someone you trust who says ‘oh that’s good.’”
According to Butler, Mackey was involved with 80 to 90 percent of the record while Bangalter was more deeply involved with “Everything Now,” “Put Your Money On Me,” and “Infinite Content” and his fingerprints on those songs shine through in all the right ways. “Thomas, besides being an amazing musician, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and an encyclopedic knowledge of production, microphone techniques from the 1950’s to the present and he’s very philosophical,” said Butler, “Thomas almost plays more of a philosophical role on the record where we’d sit and talk about a song for two hours and what it meant and how the instrumentation influenced that meaning and it felt like a very French way of experiencing things.”
That kind of attention to detail and effort is what it takes to put together an album like Everything Now and while critics may not have had incredibly positive reactions right off the bat, the band was rewarded with their first number one single when “Everything Now” hit the top of Billboard’s Adult Alternative chart. Now, the band is on the road rewarding their fanbase with an in-the-round arena tour that echoes the concept of Everything Now with patented Arcade Fire innovation.
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