After a months-long promotional rollout that found Arcade Fire facetiously attempting to send up corporatization, capitalism and social elitism, the band have finally dropped their fifth studio album, Everything Now. Reviews, for seemingly the first time in the band's career, have been middling to negative — but that feels unsurprising, given the reactions of fans and critics alike to the divisive album campaign, which found the band making up fake concert dress codes and slathering all PR missives in Everything Now Corp. logos and over-the-top corporate-speak. Where Arcade Fire's music once felt like a balm to soothe the rash of modern-day cynicism and the overwhelming noise of media culture, the band's campaign suddenly made them feel a part of it.
Exclaim! spoke with Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry about the band's strategy for the release of Everything Now and whether there were any qualms about contributing to that noise — particularly when it seems more important than ever to cut through it.
"If it was me doing a solo project," Parry says, "I would not be taking this tack. I think it's loud, and it is obnoxious and noisy." But, he adds, "I don't think that is completely inappropriate, given the circumstances and the time period, and I think it does a good job of reflecting aspects of culture that are noisy and bombastic at this point in time."
The band's supersized rollout was conceived late in the album's creation, as the Everything Now themes became apparent.
"We kind of kept jokingly coming up with funny ideas that could relate to products, from the different songs," Parry explains. "Once we'd done that a couple of times, it started to be a running theme, like, 'Oh, that's a funny thing to do.' Once we started riffing on it, the floodgates opened and it was all of us riffing on stupid, funny ideas for what songs could be what product."
The problem, according to some, is that those cynical themes overshadow both the album and any actual, truthful context about the making of the album. Even conducting an interview about the album presents challenges; any facts about how Everything Now actually came to be have been obscured by a fake concept that sent up the very notion of album promotion. That, Parry says, is part of what led to the concept.
"This thing becomes a job at a certain point, and part of that job is media relations, which is a much larger part of the job than you would want it to be, and which comes from an impetus that is so unrelated — making music is the most unrelated thing to media relations I can name. You take the good with the bad, but it also is a comedic and sometimes quite tiring prospect, interfacing with that and having to continually interface with that in a fresh way. So I think, as always, we just tried to have fun with it as best we could, and it seemed like a fun way to approach it this time.
"It feels like every generation for the past multiple generations has felt like media saturation was at an all-time high, but it really feels like that is more true than ever, with the Trump-mania and Facebook, the endless sharing of things true and false over social media. I think doing something that interfaces with that, on a bigger cultural scale, as well as interfaces with [the band] in a way that is amusing or fun… I think we just wanted to approach it in a way that spoke on both of those levels."
Whether or not it's coming across as intended is another story, and Parry acknowledges that it's been contentious. "I know plenty of people find it super annoying," he admits, "and I know plenty of people don't get it and think we're just doing dumb, real marketing in public, on Twitter. Plenty of people think it's poor satire."
He also says that it's accomplished some of what the band meant to do.
"To me, the fact that the National Post ran a fake article about us that was made up from a bogus website is kind of reaction enough. There's an actual cultural exchange going on there. That's the benefit in all this: Not that I expect such self-examination from the purveyors of the more crass aspects of our culture — I think they suffer from a lack of self-examination in the first place — but that is a part of the art of it, for sure. That is a large part of the artistic angle of releasing a record that talks about the style in which things are conveyed."
Everything Now is out now on Columbia Records.
Pick up Arcade Fire's previous album Reflektor on vinyl and CD here.