Arcade Fire’s fifth album, “Everything Now,” cries out against an information age that won’t stop cramming inconsequential crud down our throats, ears and optic nerves — which means the popular Canadian rock group has chosen to present a more concise, essential version of itself, right? No, not this time, and probably not ever. Instead, the band’s sound keeps growing bigger while its ideas remain small. “Every room in my house is filled with s--- I couldn’t live without,” bandleader Win Butler sneers early on this album, simultaneously channeling the anti-clutter manifestos of Marie “KonMari” Kondo and the anti-consumerist ideology printed on only the most uncompromising Radiohead T-shirts.
The song does, however, invite us to think about space, and specifically, how Arcade Fire has chosen to fill theirs. The word “whoa” used to be the band’s go-to device. It was an immensely flexible exclamation that could be stretched or inflated to hold any mood or melody, and when sung as a sweeping group refrain, it delivered a cathartic, one-size-fits-all kind of wallop — but tons of singers copied it, got famous from it, then sold their copycat whoa-whoa songs to television commercials. Arcade Fire shrewdly moved along. Now, the new space-filler is repetition.
Check out the Abba-like sparkle of the new album’s title track, where Butler and his posse repeat “everything now” a total of 46 times. On the shaggy disco strut of “Good God Damn,” he sings the phrase “good god damn” 18 times. And during “Infinite Content,” a short burst of pseudo-punk haiku, the words “infinite content” repeat 16 times, then another eight during “Infinite_Content,” a countryish version of the same song. Repetition can be a potent device in rock music. It can fill our heads with tension, or put us under a spell, or make us dance. Here, it only ever feels like a verbal spackling paste used to patch gaps of imagination. For a band so committed to making statement-rock, it’s astonishing how little Arcade Fire has to say.
As for the music, it’s still a little too tidy, a little too proud of itself, a little too deep in the thrall of Bowie, Springsteen and the Talking Heads to exude any charisma of its own. What else is there to say about it? Two things. The band occasionally dials in a rubbery bass guitar tone that bounces like a superball off linoleum, and Régine Chassagne’s counterpoint vocals are getting stronger, stranger and more magnetic. Time for her solo album.
Until then, we’ll be left to wonder if the promotional campaign for “Everything Now” sucked up more creative juice than the recording itself. In preparation for the album’s release, the band and its publicity team have launched a handful of parody websites across the Internet — Stereoyum instead of Stereogum, Hollywood Reported instead of Hollywood Reporter — to publish spoof critiques of the band, satirizing the capriciousness of our hot-take discourse, while conveniently preempting any unflattering reviews that might be coming their way.
Smart artists answer their critics with smarter art, but this is something else — a band of Grammy winners complaining about the absurdity of a hype-machine that already made them rich but could never make them cool.