Arcade Fire’s Everything Now and also a bit of D.F.W.

Arcade Fire’s new album Everything Now just came out, and it continues the band’s project of saying a lot of things about a lot of things. Among the things that Everything Now (EN) gets at are: riches, fame, party culture, (fake) love, youth, modern life, technology, God, death. They’ve tackled all these things before, but this time they’ve upped the scale, and so remain the Most Ambitious Band in the world.

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If EN had a central theme, it would be excess. The album’s title gets at that, as do the song-titles “Everything_Now (cont.),” “Everything Now” (lead single), “Everything Now (cont.)” (all of which are separate tracks) and the songs “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content.” EN gets at excess mostly in the form of monetary wealth. A line from “Creature Comfort” has the narrator say that he’s “born in a diamond mine. / It’s all around [him] but [he] can’t touch it.” “Put Your Money On Me” reflects on money, human relationships, and death.

This is all pretty heavy stuff, but Arcade Fire presents their music fairly in a pretty accessible fashion (it’s definitely easier to listen to than their last album, Reflektor). Even in their musical choices they present excess. EN continues the disco/dance-rock trend that Daft Punk and I guess LCD Soundsystem embody. “Everything Now” (the track) reeks of ABBA. “Signs of Life” reeks of gaudy-colored bell-bottoms (the song does self-awarely use the lyric “those cool kids stuck in the past”). But other tracks are less dancey and more rock. If you lowered the sound fidelity of “Chemistry,” it wouldn’t be out of place on a White Stripes record. In many songs, the bass track would do a funk bassist proud. Arcade Fire takes in a bunch of different influences and by doing so presents excess in musical form, so that you’re getting bombarded by excess on the levels of both music and lyrics (form and content).

Is it all too much? AF is my favorite band on the planet, and if you said you think EN is too much, I’d say “That’s the point.” EN is trying to get us to reflect on what wealth is doing to us. If we can hear “I need / everything now! I can’t live without / everything now! / … ’til every room in my house is filled with s**t I couldn’t live without” and feel some resonance and say “What happened?”–EN has done its job.

“Creature Comfort,” which might be my favorite track from the album, returns to the themes of AF’s first album, Funeral. Its lyrics are some of the most depressive, but also resonant from the album:

Some boys hate themselves
Spend their lives resenting their fathers
Some girls hate their bodies
Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback

Saying God, make me famous
If you can’t just make it painless
Just make it painless

Assisted suicide
She dreams about dying all the time
She told me she came so close
Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record

[…]

It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want
On and on, I don’t know if I want it

This has thematic connection to the work of David Foster Wallace: feelings of self-loathing, confusion, and disgust permeate his work, as do struggles with death and suicide, which is what this song is largely about. The song, as well as Wallace’s work, poses suicide (or perhaps death in a metaphorical sense) as a potential escape from self-destructive, or at least endlessly pointless, habits of excess (“But you do it every time / Then you do it again” – “Signs of Life”) . Wallace says it isn’t, or that it doesn’t achieve what you think it will. Arcade Fire, both in “Creature Comfort” and the album as a whole, doesn’t seem to give one, but it does acknowledge that struggle.

“Signs of Life” does briefly mention God as a potential option to turn to for fulfillment:

Love is hard, sex is easy
God in Heaven, could you please me?

But the album is by and large parodic and not a vessel of hope. That’s fine, but parody only gets you so far (as D.F.W. acknowledged and struggled with).

TL;DR: Everything Now is a lot, but it’s worth listening to. I like it.

 

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