Let’s take a moment to review the “highlights” of the exhausting album cycle for Arcade Fire’s fifth LP, Everything Now — there have been fidget spinners, fake album reviews, facetious Kendall Jenner T-shirts, and a formal dress code for an album-release show that was apparently implemented without the band’s knowledge. Or maybe the dress code was, like, satirical, a bold statement about how the media are sheep who will lap up any content you give them, just as those other gestures tweak the mindlessly corporatized web.
Actually, the dress-code snafu really was the result of miscommunication. As for the other stuff … calling it “satire” doesn’t make it insightful or any less tiresome.
Whether Arcade Fire is the midst of a meltdown or merely trolling, the image of the band that’s become fixed in the public is that of a former underground institution that now seems hopelessly out of touch. Arcade Fire has always flirted with (if not unapologetically embraced) pomposity in its music, but the Everything Now campaign betrays a new dispiriting arrogance that has verged on patronizing toward its audience. Unfortunately, this goes deeper than a few lame publicity stunts. This condescension exists at the very heart of the album.
Early singles from Everything Now, including the title track and “Creature Comfort,” have been strangely sour jeremiads against modern culture that sub out Arcade Fire’s usual earnestness for pungent cynicism about vapid, gluttonous kids. While Arcade Fire’s early work addressed the band’s central obsessions — apathy, empty consumerism, spiritual bankruptcy — from a personal point of view, these songs feel suspiciously like “not us, but them“-style finger-pointing. In the band’s view, the girl in “Creature Comfort” who puts on Arcade Fire’s iconic 2004 debut record Funeral to stave off thoughts of suicide is no longer a person to whom the members can personally relate. Instead, she’s a silly millennial acting out for attention. The universality that Arcade Fire once stridently projected has given way to middle-aged alienation.