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Win, What Was the Joke?

Maybe you listened to Arcade Fire’s Everything Now when it came out last summer and concluded that, while the album may have had its moments, it ultimately wasn’t very enjoyable. After that, maybe you gave it another chance, or didn’t. Maybe you saw the band in concert—because they still are stellar performers—and did your best to forget about that cynical parody promotional campaign.

Well, pity Win Butler, because for him everything is still Everything Now. Almost 12 months deep into this album cycle, he thinks he’s finally diagnosed the problem: The record is bad, and more self-importantly, people these days just can’t take a joke. In a new interview with the Guardian—which also begs the question of why Win Butler is still granting interviews—he seems to acknowledge that Everything Now might not be his best work. “Part of me hopes that this record is our stinker, our horrible record,” he said. “Because if it is, then we may be the greatest band of all time. It’s pretty funny to me. If that’s the worst thing we can possibly do then I’m at peace.”

Unfortunately, the negative reception also seems to have convinced Butler that it’s everyone else’s fault for not finding him funny. In the interview, he cites the National Lampoon and the ongoing obsession with political correctness on college campuses as further examples of why the Everything Now promo campaign was met with such resistance:

“By modern standards, some of that stuff does not fly: the photo spread saying they’d found Hitler in paradise. It’s so offensive, but so perfectly executed. You’re probably not doing it right if it’s not on that edge. A lot of comedians now say the same thing: they won’t play colleges now because you can’t tell a joke. People have lost the ability to even know what a joke is. It’s very Orwellian, it’s the canary in the coal mine. Comedians have always been at the frontline of what people have been scared to talk about, and as soon as you stop being able to do that it’s a downward slope.”

But there was nothing even purposefully offensive about Everything Now—the problem was that its commentary on internet culture was stale, and the spoofs weren’t funny. At one point, Butler complained that the campaign would have gone over better if it had come from the Onion (where, according to Butler, the band recruited some of its copywriting talent, along with contributors to the New Yorker). “It seems that by changing the masthead to something real, it changes the context of what the joke is,” Butler said, which seems like something he should have thought of earlier. As it stands, the Onion—well, Clickhole—did do a better job at Arcade Fire spoof promo than Arcade Fire ever did, which makes sense because they’re professionals who don’t just publish things about themselves. Butler, meanwhile, has to keep on touring this thing until the end of July. Read Win Butler’s new Guardian interview here.