Arcade Fire are one of the biggest and most impactful rock bands to emerge out of the last decade and half. Their first album Funeral is a classic. Their third album The Suburbs is even better. Hell, I will gladly die on the Reflektor hill, dancing the night away in glittery, seven-inch platform shoes. They are without question one of the greatest live performing entities in the world today. That being said, it’s probably fair at this point to declare their most recent album Everything Now a major misstep. It’s not just the quality of the music either — though “Peter Pan” is far and aways the worst song they’ve ever committed to tape — the entire rollout campaign that the band deployed to trumpet their latest work revealed a group totally out of touch with both its fan base and the world at large.
It’s one thing to create a bad record. Great artists do that all the time. See Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart or Neil Young’s Trans for exquisite examples. It’s an entirely different story to put your fans through a ham-fisted pre-release cycle that zaps them of enthusiasm for your latest artistic expression, and turns them into beleaguered defenders. Katy Perry fans know this pain all too well this year. As do Rihanna fans — Anti was great, but what the hell was the deal with all those digital rooms? Even Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo became grating after weeks and weeks and weeks of Twitter rants, fashion shows, leaks, and edits.
Arcade Fire managed to set a new bar with Everything Now. The central theme of their new record is all about content, content, content, and the corporate masters who keep us occupied and entertained at a minute-by-minute level. That’s a pretty fertile idea to draw from and not a bad conversation to inspire. It’s in the execution however, where Arcade Fire went off the rails.
The whole thing kicked off in May when a Twitter account that resembled a Russian spambot tweeted out an excerpt from the lead-off single and title track “Everything Now.”
It only got more perplexing from there. They announced the entire tracklist through anagram titles like “Rectum Roofer Cat” and “Electric Lube.” Then came the $109 figdet spinners. Piggybacking off a brouhaha between Kendall and Kylie Jenner and the estate of Biggie Smalls, they sold their own t-shirts with their new logo emblazoned over the socialites faces. They eventually got Stephen Colbert into the action, having the Late Show host’s Twitter account “leak” a series of obviously phony demands made by the band.
The most face palm-inducing moment came when the band shared a “Premature Premature Evaluation” of their new album before it had been released onto their fake website in response to a piece titled “Remember When Arcade Fire Were Good” written by Chris Deville. As a music writer myself, I inherently know that anything I say about Arcade Fire’s attempt at satire will come off as seemingly a reflexive defensive of my profession, but there’s something extremely lame about one of the biggest bands on Earth, who have just signed up to a major label, punching down so far to take a shot at a blog that had frankly been mostly supportive of them in the past.
It’s one thing to plot out an interactive campaign, one that increases user awareness and drives a conversation, but the tools that Arcade Fire has used to go about bringing awareness to Everything Now are so craven as to be almost grotesque. Russian bots and fake news sites? To many who continue to live with the horrors that these twin tools have wrought at the highest levels of government over the past several months, their deployment as marketing implements has been totally, and completely off-putting by nearly every measure.
Pushed and prodded in what little interviews they deigned to conduct, the band laid all responsibility for their actions at the feet of the fake Everything Now Corporation. “Everything Now Corp entered into an arrangement with Arcade Fire,” a statement issued by the group declared many weeks ago. “The band would promote their music aggressively…but the band is unwilling…we’ve decided to take over [their] social media.” In interviews fellow singer and multi-instrumentalist Regine Chassagne refused to answer questions on the order of the shady conglomerate. Both Butler brothers — Win and Will — were more open, but the frontman in particular grew pricklier — he doesn’t rap ya’ll! — as the backlash against the quality of the album and the grating nature of the campaign as a whole became the dominant narratives.
The ploy was all in service of this larger point that the band was trying to make, but they were attacking a problem and embedding themselves into a culture that they are woefully out of tune with, and blissfully above. Arcade Fire isn’t Father John Misty. They aren’t in the trenches every day, fighting back against the inanity of social media and the constantly churning content mill with their own material and cleverly — or stupidly — designed clapbacks.
Every gimmick came off as exactly that: A gimmick, all in service of drawing more eyeballs to their new project. And that would be fine if there was any kind of nuance brought to bear. Just like on the album they were hawking, the band, and the people behind the scenes, seemed to overthink things out to the point that they became rote. It all became predictable to the point of absurdity. $109 for a fidget spinner? Really? For myself many others, Arcade Fire morphed from a band you rooted for and defended to one you simply rolled your eyes at.
Once Everything Now finally hit the shelves, the band finally felt comfortable pulling the ripcord on the entire thing. “Hey guys. Taking an extended break from this thing,” Win Butler tweeted shortly after the group’s phenomenal Lollapalooza-ending performance. “Will miss the opinions and the 1 liners :)))) talk later when I got something to say.” Fear not, he came back a couple of days later to pitch a self-help book to some big-name publishers about his time away.
The real confirmation came the next day, when Arcade Fire tweeted a message that @’d to several major media outlets wherein they blamed the entire thing on a fictional social media manager by the name of Tannis Wright. “Tannis’ excitement about the band and the project was infectious, and maybe we were blinded by it,” the statement read. “In recent weeks it has come to light that Tannis crossed the line from marketing into outright fiction…and has even offended some readers, fans and websites…The band will regain control of its social channels, marketing, and publicity…we look forward to seeing you on the Infinite Content world tour.”
So, now here we are. Arcade Fire has earned its fourth No. 1 record in a row. They are in the midst of an extensive world tour, filling arenas in every town the hit. When it’s over, if history is to be an indication, they will once again fade into the back, then re-emerge with another new record three to four years from now. The best we can hope for in that scenario? A Beyonce-esque surprise drop. Give us as little warning and with as little promotion possible please.
“I think ‘album cycle’ and ‘content’ are maybe my two least-favorite phrases,” Win recently told USA Today. After the last several weeks, I’d have to agree.