Arcade Fire Sounding Warmer And More Focused Than Ever Before

I was never a big fan of Arcade Fire, but I’ve been coming around to them the last couple of albums, and I am really digging their new single “Everything Now”. Subtlety and restraint were never part of this band’s vocabulary before but they are clearly continuing to evolve, and as the masters have taught us, you can’t be a great artist if you’re not constantly evolving.

When the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne started a food fight a few years back by calling Arcade Fire “pompous”, I was in complete agreement. It was a perfect word. These guys took earnestness, seriousness and self-importance to toxic levels, looking to me like a band that was screaming out “hey look at us, we’re making art”. I knew they were talented, and I really liked a couple of songs like “Keep The Car Running”, but the attitude was hard to stomach.

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Well they still seem pretty serious, and still drawn to grand statements, but the musical treatment on “Everything Now” shows a band stepping out of their comfort zone and still succeeding. Instead of an 8-piece band wildly banging on their pianos and acoustic guitars and percussion sticks like music time at the daycare, the band sounds focused and restrained like a North American 21st century ABBA. This is a good thing. (Conversely, ABBA would have been much better if they had had more Arcade Fire in them.)

The relaxed, Seventies-style pop with all those pianos, strings and groovy beats has the effect of warming Win Butler’s urgent and earnest vocals. I think the style humanizes the Arcade Fire and lets the song’s strong lyric about living in moments sink in a little better. The excellent backing vocals and great use of the African flute throughout really help make it come alive. This melody will stick with you too.

Of course many old-time Arcade Fire fans are up in arms, saying that the band has lost it and gone soft. That’s just the way it goes when any artist has the courage to change direction. So many fans are incapable of changing along with them. Butler smartly seems to have factored in that reaction, telling Beats 1 that “we don’t take it for granted that everyone’s still going to be into it. You’re finding fans the whole time.”

I guess as a new fan I am replacing one that they’ve lost. If a band can replace every lost fan with a new one, they’re probably doing something right. We will see for sure when the album Everything Now hits the shelves at the end of July.

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