If you think Arcade Fire has devolved into self-parody, they want you to know they’re in on the joke.
In promoting their fifth effort Everything Now (**1/2 out of four), the Canadian indie rockers have cleverly poked fun at dutiful album cycles and their oft-cited pretentiousness, unspooling fake brand-sponsored content on their social media feeds and selling their own versions of Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s controversial band t-shirts. They even trolled critics with mock-ups of music sites Pitchfork and Billboard, publishing a snarky yet entirely spot-on review of their album on “Stereoyum” (a satire of Stereogum), which will surely make any music writer blush with embarrassment.
If only they had been quite as self-aware writing Everything Now, a sonic step forward with occasional flashes of brilliance that also buckles under the weight of its own lofty ideas. Much of the album grapples with dissatisfaction in a media-obsessed age, which singers including Katy Perry and Father John Misty have also tackled with varying levels of success this year. The most on the nose is pop-punk ditty Infinite Content and its countrified successor Infinite_Content, whose repeated juxtaposition of lyrics “infinite content” and “we’re infinitely content” doesn’t stimulate so much as it grates.
The jaunty, reggae-tinged Chemistry and faux-gritty Signs of Life also hinge on connection or a lack thereof, but both are bogged down by pedestrian lyrics and forgettable melodies that we hoped had been lost with the band’s last genre-bending record, 2013’s Reflektor. (And the less said about frontman Win Butler’s over-earnest talk-rapping, the better.)
The only song to successfully couple Arcade Fire’s modern concerns with elegant songwriting is lead single Everything Now, a deceptively sunny critique of consumerism whose rueful verses are offset by tinkling piano, swelling strings and a murmuring, delightfully unexpected pan flute.
The album’s most gratifying string of songs is in its back half, starting with Electric Blue. Régine Chassagne takes the lead for the nimble dance track, which takes a page from French pop band Phoenix as she sings about heartache in a crystalline falsetto over a buoyant synth bass line. The flickering funk ballad Good God Damn, like the earlier Creature Comfort, is a deeply felt rumination on death and…