Breaking Up (With a Band) Is Hard to Do

With new album Everything Now, Arcade Fire are a little overdue for that look under the hood.
With new album Everything Now, Arcade Fire are a little overdue for that look under the hood. Photo by Guy Aroch Photography/Courtesy of Nasty Little Man
People end relationships in any number of ways. Some do it via text. Others opt for the phone-call route. Hell, some own up and do it in person (this takes character and a very good way with words). Some blow the thing up in the hopes their significant other will see the light and end the relationship for them; this is both a spineless, and often successful, way to end a relationship. Others, meanwhile, just ghost, content to let the relationship fade away in the hopes their former mate gets the message.

Point being, there are any number of ways to end a relationship, some more successful than others. However, these various routes exist because ending a relationship is hard. After all, were it an easy task, there would likely be a “one size fits all” approach to doing so. Breaking up sucks. People get hurt. Sometimes, it takes one or both parties a while to move on.

This mentality doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. Whether it be a friendship, a job, hell, even a favorite restaurant or bar, breaking free from something can be a trying task. It might even take more than one attempt. This holds particularly true for music.

Arcade Fire released Everything Now, its fifth studio album, a couple of weeks ago. It's not a particularly good record. It’s unfocused and self-indulgent and kinda just sounds like the music of a band that isn’t exactly sure what it wants to be. This is not a particularly novel viewpoint; Everything Now currently holds a 66 out of 100 by critics on Metacritic, and fans who have used the site to grade the album have been even less kind (6.2 out of 10).

Some have decried Everything Now for its departure in sound from previous Arcade Fire efforts. These are the same people who banged on artists like the Killers and Kanye West for changing their styles and sounds as well. That’s not really my place to judge; if a band is inspired by something and therefore wants to change its sound a bit, far be it from me to tell a band how it should sound.

Of course, it helps if the new sound is, you know, actually good. Instead, Everything Now is a kind of “all over the place” record that finds Arcade Fire attempting to navigate life post-fame. This is, after all, a band that knocked off pop heavyweights like Eminem, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry in claiming Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammys.

In short, I’m breaking up with Arcade Fire. Not that this was some shortsighted reaction to an album that may very well hold up better than some view in the present. Rather, this is in reaction to the fact that each Arcade Fire album has dipped in quality, to varying degrees, when compared to its respective predecessor.

The band stormed out of the gate with 2004’s Funeral, which didn’t really sound like anything before it. That probably explains why it was deservedly featured on a number of year-end “best of” lists. Following up such an unexpected success was really a fruitless endeavor, but Arcade Fire nonetheless managed a valiant effort with 2007’s Neon Bible. While not quite as grandiose and anthemic as Funeral, Neon Bible proved a more-than-capable sophomore release.

The Suburbs is where some started to jump off the Arcade Fire wagon, for two very related reasons. One, it was and remains the band’s most pop-sounding record, which explains why it cleaned up at the Grammys. The second, which certainly ties into the first, is that a number of original Arcade Fire fans are Pitchfork-reading, pretentious hipster types who can think of nothing worse than their idols going mainstream. These naysayers are wrong; The Suburbs is a perfectly fine record, certainly not as good as the band’s first two albums, but a fine example of a band examining its place in both the world and the music landscape.

Then came bloated 2013 double album Reflektor, which almost sounded like Arcade Fire making a weird record for no other reason than to protest its newfound mainstream acceptance. I considered dumping the band at that point, but hey, everyone makes mistakes. Plus, three great records in four tries is certainly an impressive feat.

Alas, Everything Now will mark my official departure from the band’s fan club. Arcade Fire, and in particular front man (and Houston-area native) Win Butler, never seemed at ease with success, and Everything Now confirms as much. Hell, in the post-Grammy glow, the band had the opportunity to vie for the crown of biggest band in the world. Instead, Arcade Fire started making weird music almost in opposition to this notion.

That’s all well and good; Butler and his crew of very talented bandmates are entitled to create any type of art they see fit. But that doesn’t mean we all have to stick around and listen to it. So so long, Arcade Fire. It’s not me; it’s you.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale