There was a time in my life when I loved Arcade Fire more than members of my own family. Their debut album Funeral remains one of the best alternative albums of this millennium, and their second Neon Bible continued the run. They're some of the most accomplished and inventive musicians currently working. And that's was why 2017's Everything Now, their fifth studio album, felt so stale: it carried a new preoccupation with The Modern World and The State of Capitalism front and center.
Here was a group who had consistently innovated, falling back on "old man yells at cloud" tropes and Black Mirror-esque themes that have been around for basically as long as we've had the internet. Obviously stuff like soulless product placement and the encroachment of business onto art is worth calling out, but their doing so felt late, which in turn felt out-of-touch. And yet. They've forged ahead, today releasing a 12-minute music video that adds a visual element to their subject matter.
The film is for the tracks "Put Your Money On Me" (which, despite its use of the lines "Above the chloroform sky / Clouds made of Ambien," is pretty great) and "We Don't Deserve Love." It follows the band through a deal with the shady but omnipotent Everything Now corporation, to whom they basically sell their souls once bankrupt. The first portion of the clip sees them wheeled out to promote cereal in a music video (the same fake cereal that was part of the album's bizarre marketing campaign last year), before performing at an Everything Now gala and then just fucking shit up BECAUSE THEY JUST CANNOT TAKE IT ANYMORE. Win Butler escapes; the rest of the band get arrested by the Everything Now police.
The second part juxtaposes the band playing together in Everything Now prison with Butler on the run in the desert, before he also ends up playing with them, dressed in the same prison jumpsuit. It's implied that they're back in the gala where they began, and the message is basically that WE ARE ALL PRISONERS and YOU CANNOT ESCAPE CAPITAL EVEN IF YOU GO TO THE DESERT BECAUSE THERE'S STILL AN 'EVERYTHING NOW' NEON BILLBOARD THERE. Which, yeah. True, fair. But also, I know. We all know.
Obviously one of the major objectives of art is to allow its creators to work through their ideas about the world surrounding them, and it's cool that Arcade Fire are doing that here. But for a band who were once so subtle, so able to craft great emotion with the lightest lyrical or instrumental touch, the point just feels laboured, and that's a shame. Obviously they won't lose fans or sales here (they're one of the biggest rock bands in the world, their live show is still wonderful, and their first three albums alone guarantee that they'll always be considered musical royalty), but their appeal has always been based on their ability to transcend the ordinary. Here, it feels as though they're just getting bogged down in it.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.