This week’s battle in Album WAR! Arcade Fire’s Everything Now vs. The Fall’s New Facts Emerge
Art and accessibility at a crossroads… Arcade Fire’s “art school” aesthetic leaves much of their catalogue consisting of cleverly constructed conceptual elements or loose existential themes, sometimes to the detriment of their own abilities. Occasionally, the most exquisitely beautiful masks are useless ornamentation; only serving to hide ideal forms beneath. Such is some of Arcade Fire’s most consistent, and often warranted, criticism.
Everything Now is not an outlier by any degree. In fact, it is tried and true to their back pages but there is a concentrated effort to maintain a thematic presence throughout the tracks that does not lose its message through its desire to be considered artistic.
Consumerism is always a driving force of pop culture and no less with modern music. This makes it a curious theme to tackle when a itunes ready rock act attempts to take the piss out of it. To a finer point, Everything Now hones in on the shallowness we are left with due to the constant drain for disposable distractions in life. Five songs of the album’s thirteen tracks are presented as subtle variations on a single theme: “Everything_Now (continued)”, “Everything Now”, and “Everything Now (continued)”, coupled with the album’s heavy lifters “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content”. This leaves little room for error if their conceptual lodestone is received off the mark by listeners; a risk they’re willing to take.
Perhaps due to thematic relevance, the opening tracks carry with incredibly thin disposable pop tracks that are so striking they nearly play in contempt of Arcade Fire’s established gestalt. The beginning of Everything Now underlines its anti-art accessibility with the band doing their best Abba and low-rent Talking Heads impersonations throughout. It is isn’t until Everything Now’s “Creature Comfort” that the album begins to resemble quintessential Arcade Fire with its thoughtful and well constructed lyrics and infectious, thoroughly layered compositions.
While the opening tracks set the stage and provide atmospherics that lend well to the thematic conceit, “Creature Comfort” lays out the album’s narrative and encapsulates the desperation Millennials feel while swept in the maelstrom of infinite content; desperate just to stay above water. “Some boys hate themselves, spend their lives hating 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.” Like Radiohead’s “Creep” if you can’t associate even slightly to the tragically poignant insecurities on display throughout “Creature Comfort” you’re probably an unrepentant jerkface of one shade or another.
“Creature Comfort” lifts the subject matter from well-trod consumer cynicism to a well-orchestrated play that highlights the rippling fallout that we all share in having been born into a world that constantly chews up and spits out everyone for their five seconds of viral relevance before being discarded in pursuit of this paradoxical quest for infinite content that could only ever be infinitely hollow.
What is curious of Everything Now, considering the plight of modernity in its central conceit, is its deep reaching musical influences that heavily draw from Abba, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Blondie, John Sebastian, etc. The album’s musical arrangement never takes a backseat to its concept, but conversely, it is never allowed to flex its muscles for fear of overshadowing the premise it supports. The quick bursts of garage rock, the spastic fits of pop jams and the easy dancing disco openers all play to the world Arcade Fire constructs through the album’s main thesis, however in doing so, the incredibly talented and creative ensemble do not take many risks and experiment very little. In doing so they prove themselves disciplined to their vision and provide a stellar album with a clear focus that feels anything but hollow.
The dedication to the album’s theme makes Everything Now an Arcade Fire release that any fan would enjoy and rank toward the top of their catalogue. Conversely, entry-level listeners may find the album’s offering somewhat anemic. A full display of the band’s musical potential would have felt gratuitous in light of Everything Now’s vision- a concise and telling look into modern society’s worthless disposability of commerce and art and subsequently the lives caught up in the pull/pulk between the poles.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Standout Track: “Creature Comfort”
This track alone can sell the album on its own. Wonderfully constructed turns of phrases pose tragic glimpses into the lives of men and women reduced to little more than flotsam and jetsam in the meme-centric viral world we crash and burn through.
New Facts Emerge
Cherry Red Records
Then again, infinite content can have its drawback as well.
Can we talk about The Fall for a minute, guys?
Sometimes there is something to be said for choosing not to produce infinite content. Nothing proves this more clearly than the Fall’s thirty-second full length release New Facts Emerge. What’s been presented to us is the latest in a public disintegration of what was once the seminal force in emo/goth/punk/rock forefront as the Fall continue to unspool from their reels. So dramatic is the loose, crude reinterpretation that much of what is bellowed on New Facts Emerge is objectively unintelligible.
The sloppy guttural slurring and babbling is distressing if nothing else, compared to the heights once achieved by the band. While the album’s openers, “Segue” and “Fol De Rol”, lean fearlessly with purposeful cockswinging swagger, its six and a half minute length completely exposes the band’s limited range, both musically and vocally, right out of the gate.
This overreaching hubris leaves the Fall starting from behind and finds New Facts Emerge having to outpace its initial misstep. Unfortunately, the wallpaper doesn’t change much for the following tracks with a largely consistent post-grunge punk rhythm that plays far too safe for the fangs it would wish to bare. Even the instrumental “O! Zztrrk Man” works over largely the same bars that backed any number of the remaining tracks to the point of irrelevance. The stars that vocalist and only original member, Mark E. Smith, aims for are finally captured in the ageless and throat shredding title track, “New Facts Emerge”, but it finds itself buried and beset by muddy half-starts and thin imitations on either side.
There is an obvious choice to follow a lo-fi garage aesthetic throughout New Facts Emerge and it would be foolhardy to criticize a raw, full-throated and inelegant presentation, but to open that box and to not be equipped to handle the demons that emerge is another matter. Much of New Facts Emerge is a veteran rock act struggling as they reach far out of the lanes they’ve aged into.
If nothing else, the rest of the band chooses to show up for the enigmatic “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s”. A much heavier, doomy number that is still hampered by a drunken slurring narrative. The oasis of this album’s desert, “Couples…” is wholly singular in its narrative-focus that leans into the same mythical musings that psychedelic bands like Tomorrow, Soft Machine and even Hawkwind painted with. Rightly so, the track transposes this late ‘60s wonderment onto its post-post-punk dystopia; replete with haunting monk-like chanting; ‘cause why not?
The band allows themselves some fun in the cheeky “Second House Now” that opens with a jaunty spoon-tapping ditty before clumsily changing gears into all-too-familiar pop punk, which plays like a tired rehash of contemporary Rancid; which of course plays as a tired rehash of old Rancid. “Gibbus Gibson” offers some bona fide beginning to end lo-fi gold. Its loose pop accessibility could easily stowaway onto the next Gorillaz or Arctic Monkeys album. Here, it is unfortunately too little too late.
This rudimentary and bare-bones motif is perhaps best captured in the album’s closing number “Nine Out of Ten”, a contemplative jam session that harkens back to early Black Sabbath rehearsal sessions. The distorted jangly half-conceived composition plays itself out, losing itself to the same obscurity from which it emerged. Unfortunately, much can be said about the album as a whole.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Standout Track: “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s”.
A curious track, isolated by its thoughtfulness. “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s” offers a break in the mold and explores an expansive and unpredictable arrangement that Smith can vascilate comfortably within; a feature in short supply elsewhere on New Facts Emerge.
Winner of the Week: Arcade Fire – Everything Now
The fact that Arcade Fire employed conceptual themes and broad artistic strokes to paint a particular landscape should come as little surprise. The art-rock group has been toiling in halls of pseudo-intellectualism since their debut. What provides Everything Now a refreshing change is the band’s seasoned approach. The vision, the message, the metaphorical and/or anecdotal case studies embedded in their lyrics fire on all cylinders and work in concert to provide a singular conceit throughout Everything Now.
Sure, mass consumerism supplanting real human interaction, the breadth of new information being in direct inverse correlation to its actual depth and worth is not a new argument. In fact, on its surface, it’s as risqué as criticizing Bush in 2007 or Trump now, in that it isn’t. However, while others may beat the same drum, Arcade Fire paints such a vivid and direct expression of how these social conditions affect all of us who are caught in the ever-churning shit show that Everything Now deserves our attention.