The legendary Swedish pop group ABBA were incredible at making songs that sounded upbeat, even if they expressed a deeply melancholy or dismal sentiment. “Mamma Mia,” for example, seems spritely and happy with its marimba and piano, until you tune into the lyrics and realize it’s about someone regretting how badly they messed up their love life. But doesn’t it feel so happy?
Arcade Fire‘s last album, Reflektor, wasn’t for me. The once-saviors of indie rock were trying to make their fans dance; the songs were supposed to be groovy, but weren’t very groovy at all. Luckily, while the band’s comeback single “Everything Now” furthers that sound–it helps that it was co-produced with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey– it isn’t just a dance song. It’s practically an ABBA song. It’s there in that almost aggravatingly chipper piano melody, those swelling strings and rat-a-tat rhythm, the insistent chants of “everything now!” The lyrics are fantastically sarcastic and dreary, playing off the instrumentation to sound fun even when though Win Butler is going through something. He sounds wistful as ever as he opines how our cornucopia of modern pleasures have made life more routine, instead of expanding its possibilities. “Every inch of space in your head / Is filled up with the things that you read,” he sings. “I guess you’ve got everything now.” There’s a little flute solo that sounds like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” as well as a big, canned chorus of “na na na”s at the end.
The video, in which the band wears grey jumpsuits and performs around a idyllic hamlet stuck in the middle of the desert, reinforces the concept, as does their repeated refrain of “Infinite Content,” which describes all those entertainment options. Everything should be so nice… but it’s not. We should be living in the future… but it kind of sucks. This could be a super fatuous idea for Arcade Fire to beat us over the head with. Who wants to listen to a bunch of rich Canadians caterwaul about how we’ve lost the feeling? But it works, in spite of that kneejerk avulsion. “I want it,” Butler sings as the chorus repeats the title on end. “I need it.” Whenever that piano kicks in, it sounds like a beaming smile as the world dissolves into meaningless sludge. Does anything else feel more appropriate for 2017?