In 2007, the New Yorker ran an essay about how white indie rock had come to ignore the black musical tradition, as exemplified through Arcade Fire‘s culturally dominant yet completely grooveless songs. “If there is a trace of soul, blues, reggae, or funk in Arcade Fire, it must be philosophical; it certainly isn’t audible,” Sasha Frere-Jones wrote.
At the time, Arcade Fire were one of—if not the best—contemporary arena rock bands in the world. Still, the notion that they were kind of huffy and puffy and altogether very white must’ve lodged deeply in their creative consciousness, because a decade later they seem like a different band completely. 2013’s Reflektor was overstuffed with messy ideas about how to make people dance, while comeback single “Everything Now” was a fun listen but a clear put-on—like the band had asked itself, “What if we made an ABBA song?”
“Creature Comfort,” their newest song from upcoming record Everything Now, is the mature culmination of this Arcade Fire 2.0 project—a more appropriate integration of their former arena rock appeal, and their dance floor ambitions. The hypnotic, chugging synthesizer pacing the song sounds like a car cruising down a highway at night—the sonic realization of the band’s decade-old dream about the dark mystery of the city. Win Butler’s speak-songy vocal about boys and girls who hate themselves makes him sound like James Murphy, who also regurgitated a thousand rock influences onto the dance floor; Regine Chassagne is ecstatic and wild as she sings about the interior debate caused by craving suicide. (There’s a deliciously macabre little detail when Butler sings of a friend who claims she almost killed herself: “Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.”)
The song, which came with a campy cereal-based promotion suggesting we were overloaded on Ritalin, addresses the same ideas of materialism and bourgeoise that have always interested the band. “Creature comfort, make it painless,” Butler and Chassagne sing, and that comfort could mean a thousand things to a thousand people. But they’re not lecturing about the shallowness of modern life, a rare but welcome shift in their narrative perspective. Instead they’re consumed by the eerie textures of the music, which builds to a hysteric release, and more appropriately scores their unsettling concern that something isn’t quite right with the human experience. (The influence of song collaborators, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, are deeply felt.) You can dance if you want, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be bothered if you don’t, because there’s bigger things going on.