The fake reviews, shouty anti-consumerism and mock promos may belie insecurity about their progressive new sound, but this album is often gorgeous
Last week, Arcade Fire took the unusual step of posting a fake review of their fifth album. On a webpage mocked up to look like US music blog Stereogum, the Canadian sextet attempted to second-guess the critical response to Everything Now: dance-influenced tracks will be compared favorably but slightly dismissively to LCD Soundsystem; the album itself will eventually be evaluated as one of the best of the year.
It was the latest stage in a promotional campaign that feels as if it has been going on for about 200 years, during which Arcade Fire have pretended to be in the employ of a company called Everything Now Corp, which also manufactures fizzy drinks and energy bars and is aggressively marketing the band via ice-cream sponsorship deals and the placement of stories about them across the media. The mock Stereogum review follows their online parodies of sport, travel, film, music industry news and Goop-esque lifestyle websites: it can only be a matter of time before they do one poking fun at Angling Times.
It is intriguing, although not perhaps in the way Arcade Fire think it is. The suffocating noise of modern media, the similarity between the marketing of rock music and the marketing of household goods: from U2s PopMart tour to PC Music, these are impossibly well-worn topics. Why Arcade Fire have started making a satirical song and dance about them now is an interesting question. Perhaps it is something to do with prickliness about finally signing to a major label 16 years into their career. Or perhaps they are keen to prove they have a sense of humour. Arcade Fire have been hailed as many things, but are seldom an unceasing source of LOLs and ROFLs, although whether Everything Nows promotional campaign will do anything to change that is a moot point: none of it seems capable of inducing a reaction in a normal human being any more uproarious than a polite smile.
Still, the fake review seems noticeably different to the rest of the Everything Now campaign, not least because a tone of tetchy defensiveness is impossible to miss. You can see why Arcade Fire might be concerned about their new albums reception. Their oeuvre since their 2004 debut Funeral has concentrated largely on remodelling its sturm und drang sound, variously shaping it into streamlined stadium rock and a rackety homage to Scary Monsters-era Bowie. Everything Now abandons it almost entirely, although a hint remains amid the expansive electronics of its best track, We Dont Deserve Love.
Elsewhere, there is stylistic experimentation of varying degrees of success. At one extreme, Everything Now contains some genuinely fantastic music: the groggy electro-funk and falsetto vocals of Electric Blue, the audibly Abba-inspired Put Your Money on Me, the synthesised pulse and pure pop chorus of Creature Comforts. At the other, there is stuff that appears to be influenced by some of the least appealing music in history. The vocals on Signs of Life recall that unlovely point 35 years ago, where the novelty of hip-hops initial success left white rock artists feeling impelled to demonstrate that they could rap, too. Chemistry, meanwhile, sounds almost wilfully horrible, like a mid-80s AOR band attempting to play reggae. Listening to it is an experience not unlike reading one of their fake news stories about Win Butlers weight-loss regimen. You find yourself thinking: hang on, is this supposed to be funny?
Lyrically, the themes of the promotional campaign are frequently in evidence, which proves a bit wearying. The title track boasts one of the albums most addictive melodies, but theres no getting around the fact that the points it is making are hackneyed: there may be people out there clapping their hands to their mouths and muttering thank God someone has finally said this at its revelation that the smiles on Instagram are sometimes fake and that social media is no substitute for physical contact, but it is hard to imagine who. There are two 90-second-long, jingle-like tracks called Infinite Content, not a million miles removed from the joke ads that peppered the Whos Sell Out 50 years ago. In fairness to the Who, none of their ads were lumbered with terrible think-about-it-yeah? lyrics that resemble something you might hear at an amateur performance-poetry night: Infinite content, were infinitely content. It is better when it abandons sweeping statements and focuses on small details. The most affecting lyrics here might be the depictions of teen suicide bids on Creature Comforts: She told me she came so close / filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.
We live in a musical era big on grand state-of-the-world addresses, from Kendrick Lamars To Pimp a Butterfly to Father John Mistys Pure Comedy. You can see why Arcade Fire would want to do something similar: they are a band that thrive on grandiose artistic statements, whether thats geo-personalised music videos or writing fascist-inspired national anthems for The Hunger Games. But in their haste to join in, they seem to have neglected to check whether they have anything original or interesting to say about the state of the world. The fact that its laudable desire to experiment musically doesnt always come off isnt enough to make Everything Now a bad album there are songs worth hearing and genuinely thrilling music here but rather a flawed one.
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