Album Review of "Everything Now" by Arcade Fire
Five Delicious Paradoxes in "Everything Now"
Would life be better if we could have everything now? Canadian alt-rock superstars Arcade Fire explore the connection between getting more and having less in this album full of paradoxes.
Genre: Alt Rock
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Everything Now by Arcade Fire
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Album Review: Everything Now by Arcade Fire
5 Delicious Paradoxes
This is a transcript of Ep. 7 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here
Hi, everybody. Welcome to What’s This Album About?, the podcast that looks at lyrics and finds the meanings of new musical releases and vintage LPs. I’m Bobby Waller, and this episode is about Everything Now.
♪ Everything now, I need it
Everything now, I want it
Everything now, I can’t live without it
Everything Now is the new album by Canadian alt rock superstars, Arcade Fire, a band that I’ve come to believe is fascinated with paradox. Paradox is the coexistence of two things that seem to contradict one another. Two conditions that seem like they couldn’t possibly exist at the same time, and yet somehow, they do. To illustrate what I’m talking about, think Carly Rae Jepsen…
♪ I feel so right
...here telling us that her lust is wrong and right at the same time… or Nick Lowe…
♪ You gotta be cruel to be kind…
who asserts that, in order to be kind, you gotta be cruel… or even Simon and Garfunkel…
♪ and touched the sounds of silence…
…who suggest that the absence of phenomena can be a formidable phenomenon in its own right.
For these and many other artists, paradox is a muse that can be summoned occasionally to make lyrics more provocative. But for Arcade Fire, the interest in paradox is more than occasional. It’s practically a preoccupation.
That’s why in this episode of What’s This Album About?, we’re going to look at the five most delicious paradoxes of Arcade Fire’s Everything Now.
The band’s name
[Woman’s voice] Ladies and gentleman: Arcade Fire! [audience cheers]
Okay, admittedly, this paradox is not about Everything Now in particular. In fact, what you just heard was Tina Fey introducing Arcade Fire on Saturday Night Live in 2013, long before the release of Everything Now. But I played that clip because just hearing the band’s name makes me suspect That Arcade Fire is really all about paradox. I mean, putting the words “arcade” and “fire” next to each other is pretty evocative. It creates a kind of ominous feeling because an arcade is a place of fun and a fire is a tragedy. The band’s name connotes the eerie paradox of joy laced with horror and leisure laced with death. And I dare say that given how frequently this band couples poppy, dance sounds with cautionary lyrics about the downfall of humanity, it seems unlikely that Arcade Fire got their name from a random band name generator.
The more there is to hear, the less we can hear at all.
This song is called “Everything Now”— it’s the title track and lead single from the album. And it establishes the paradoxical theme that runs throughout the album: that although technology makes life better in some ways, in other ways, it makes things worse.
The song begins with a short downbeat prelude. We hear front man Win Butler lamenting that there is no way to return home from a condition he calls “Everything Now. ” The lament crescendos into a cacophony of bewildering noise…and then…it explodes into the song’s main musical motif, a catchy dance riff that is reminiscent of old-school, big-production disco, and has been compared especially to ABBA.
As the song progresses, Butler congratulates us for having everything now. He’s referring to the glut of readily accessible information, entertainment, and shopping options we now have in the digital age. The irony here is that while these things make life better in some ways, they come with their own (perhaps more formidable) problems. For Butler, this overabundance of stimulation ultimately amounts to a whole lot of noise.
♪ Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time, it’s absurd.
And we realize the cacophonous build-up that occurred between the prelude and the groovy ABBA-like riff. That was the build-up of noise in our digital age. There’s so much information and stimulation out there that we don’t know how to process it all. Which leads us to…
The more we have to choose from, the less able we are to choose.
This is “Creature Comfort,” another one of the singles from Everything Now. Its title is a term used to designate those material possessions that make life more convenient. Ostensibly this is a song about teenage maladjustment, but it’s message is applicable to just about anybody in our age of consumer gratification. The verses refer to a boy who resents his father and a girl who is unhappy with her body image—two people who are discontent with what they’ve got and praying to God for delivery into something better, preferably greatness. But as this line suggests…
♪ God, make me famous. If you can’t, just make it painless
…they are highly skeptical about the prospect of achieving such greatness. On the one hand, the redemption they crave seems possible, but on the other hand it seems impossible and the best we can hope for is something to numb our misery. The characters in this song suffer from an almost crippling lack of clarity, a kind of existential paralysis that is articulated with particular poignancy in the song’s most repeated refrain:
♪ It goes on and on, and I don’t know what I want
On and on, and I don’t know if I want it
It goes on and on, and I don’t know what I want
On and on, and I don’t know if I want it
It goes on and on, these endless choices, these relentless ideas about who we are and what makes life good. But “I don’t know what I want.” In the din of our digital age, it’s hard for any one of these ideas to stand out above the countless others. And so, in our paralysis, we settle for the creature comforts.
♪ Creature comfort make it painless, bury me penniless and nameless
We fill our hours with these modern conveniences that take our minds off our perceived failure and that we hope will enable us to cope with our own stifling anonymity.
♪ God, make me famous
If you can’t, just make it painless
just make it painless…
Interconnectedness leads to disconnectedness.
♪ Intro from “Signs of Life”
This is “Signs of Life,” another single from Everything Now. Like “Creature Comforts” it’s a song about teen restlessness with a broader meaning that can apply to everyone in the digital age. Its main refrain goes like this:
♪ Looking for signs of life
Looking for signs every night
But there’s no signs of life
So we do it again
It’s a song about the unsatisfied pursuit of human connection, and it evokes the modern irony that, even as we become increasingly connected to the rest of the world via the internet, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from real human beings. And that, I suspect is the ultimate paradox that Arcade Fire would like us to consider—because it pops up over and over again on this album.Listen to the last verse of the title track, for example.
♪ Every inch of road’s got a town
Daddy how come you’re never around
I miss you and everything now
Underneath this poppy disco groove, we hear about an absent father, a lonely child, a family that seems happy—because they have everything now…
♪ This happy family with everything now
…but under the surface, it’s a different story.
The video for “Everything Now” shows images of power lines strung on electrical poles, symbols of our electronic connectedness, spread out across vast expanses of brown, desolate land. Every once in a while, we see a human figure in that barren landscape, but they are few and far between—woefully disconnected in a world of ubiquitous interconnection.
Is this a message album or a dance album?
I had breakfast this morning at a neighborhood diner where the guy behind the counter (let’s call him Jonathan) asked me what I’d be doing today and was interested to find out I’d be writing a review of Arcade Fire’s latest album. We talked about a number of other aspects of Everything Now that could be considered paradoxical—like keyboardist Regine Chassagne’s voice…
♪ On and on, and I don’t know what I want
On and on, and I don’t know if I want it
…which is part operatic and part punk, frantic but consummately controlled at the same time… and the song, or maybe songs, called “Infinite Content,”
♪ Infinite content, infinite content, we’re infinitely content
which appears first as the punk song you’re hearing right now, spelled “Infinite Content”, and then as a country song, spelled “Infinite_Content”. The punk bit and the country bit have separate track listings, but the same lyrics and melody. And the former flows directly into the latter no silence in between. So are we talking about one song here, or two?
Clearly, Arcade Fire is not a band that’s too caught up in being one thing or another.
And I suspect that’s what Jonathan was thinking when he summed up what I consider to be the foremost paradox of this album. He said, “I like that it’s got a message that’s there if you want it, but you can also just ignore it and enjoy the grooves.”
In prepping for this episode, I read a fair number of reviews of this album, and I noticed that one of the most common criticisms of Everything Now has to do with it being both a message album and a dance album. Some critics are saying that Arcade Fire has forsaken its indie roots and should stop trying to be a dance band. Others are saying they should make up their minds and be either a message band or a dance band—but not both.
As for me, I’m inclined to agree with Jonathan. I think it’s perfectly fine to be both. And guessing from Everything Now’s performance on the Billboard album charts—currently number one in both rock and alternative rock—the public at large seems just fine with the paradox as well. A cautionary message about existential estrangement in the age of connectivity might not sound like a good time for everybody, but if it sounds like 1970s big-production disco, you can always just dance.
That’s it for this episode of What’s This Album About? This is a new podcast, so if you care to comment, like, share or subscribe, it will really help out. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And, as always, let me know if you have a great idea about a topic for a future episode. You can catch contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, I’m Bobby Waller reminding you that life is full of paradox. So keep your ears open because: