All I Want is a Wink from the Cross: Arcade Fire’s Everything Now

In Arcade Fire’s 2017 album, Everything Now, the pop rock crew provides a sweeping commentary […]

Sam Guthrie / 10.3.19

In Arcade Fire’s 2017 album, Everything Now, the pop rock crew provides a sweeping commentary on loneliness, relationships, and (the search for) rest in a digital age.

While Arcade Fire stays true to its anthemic tracks, soaring vocals, and visceral sound, the heavy doses of loneliness leave me incrementally sadder with every listen. The album is a spin cycle of emotions, like damp clothes in a dryer, working out the pain through its exhaustive list of diagnoses. The heartbreaking duet on “Creature Comfort” is a plea for a life of success and fame (“Saying God make me famous / If you can’t just make it painless”). The vocals are steeped in agonizing irony as the rest of the song suggests that a plea for fame almost always comes from a place of pain, a variable that, despite our best efforts to stifle, cannot be removed from the equation.

The speaker’s search for connection leads him to the heightened optimism of a romantic relationship. “Peter Pan” is a winsome song about a life of fairytales where every Lost Boy looks for their Wendy. But the verses quickly darken the mood as the narrator only wants a relationship because he’s afraid of dying alone (“In my dreams you’re dying / It wakes me up and I can’t stop crying / I just want to live forever”).

The beat on “Signs Of Life” is groovy but lyrically exhausting. On the track, loneliness seeks a remedy in a barren land full of superficial relationships and stimulants (“Love is hard, sex is easy / God in Heaven could you please me”) as lead singer Win Butler sounds like a defeated sojourner searching for an oasis (“Looking for signs of life / Looking for signs every night / But there’s no signs of life / So we do it again”).

Arcade Fire surely doesn’t pull any punches in its critique of technology’s role in loneliness. The albums bookends, “Everything_Now (continued)” and “Everything Now (continued)” are nearly identical and evoke a disorienting feeling for the listener: did this album just start, or just end? Is this a new song? How long have I been listening? Anyone who’s gone down the Internet’s endless rabbit holes, whether it’s the innocuous clickbait of cat fail videos or the painful scrolling of an ex-girlfriend’s photos, knows the disorienting feeling all too well. This sentiment feeds heavily into the track “Infinite Content” as Win sings repeatedly: “Infinite content / Infinite content / We’re infinitely content.” It barely takes a full listen to realize being content is the last thing our breakneck consumerism in the digital age offers. And while Arcade Fire’s perspective on technology is anything but bright, they forego the low-hanging fruit of placing the loneliness epidemic solely on the shoulders of social media. Instead they pack their album full of examples of how the roots of loneliness stem from something that may require a more painful examination of our past. (Win sings on “Peter Pan,” “Born so close but we grow apart / Every sickness starts in the heart.”)

When the dust settles after deconstructing the shared longing for connection, what Arcade Fire seems to find at ground zero is a lack of love in the relationships we desperately needed love from. The penultimate track “We Don’t Deserve Love” functions as the starting place for each grievance and dead end loneliness leads us down. In the song, the speaker mourns the fact that at some point in their life, someone told them that they didn’t deserve love. Butler sings, “If you don’t deserve love / And if I don’t deserve love / Could we deserve? / Come down off of your Cross / And tell me!” Win’s critique of religion hints at a common frustration that the self-righteous religious folks either detach from or contribute to the pain in our world. But it’s hard to listen to the album and not feel that, by their analysis, we all are guilty in numbing brokenness, contributing to pain, and/or ignoring it all together. And in a world of stimulants, it’s never been easier to justify pain away, both carried and caused, with positive thinking, ignorance, or the often misdirected mistake in religious circles to flippantly file away pain under God’s divine plan.

A lie that I’ve often loved is believing that Jesus winks from the cross. That in pain and suffering, he flashes a quick glance and provides a silver lining to what I believe is our shared pain. It’s a numbing, inefficient Band-Aid for a heart whose hurt is too big. Thank God Scripture tells us another story. Jesus doesn’t wink from the cross. He bleeds and screams, pleads and sweats. He cries and shakes. He speaks comforting words to his comrades that hang with him. And then he dies.

What keeps me in the spin cycle of Everything Now is that its explicit examples of loneliness have helped me unpack and give language to loneliness I’ve felt in varying degrees. Like a deep tissue massage, its kneading, pushing, and pulling leaves listeners sore and oddly relieved. It’s a relief that paradoxically comes when pain is shared. But  Arcade Fire admits that even our closest friends and family are incapable of being the saviors we long for. (In “We Don’t Deserve Love” they sing “It’s always the Christ-types / … [That] leave you alone.”)

As we age, there are continued instances where hurt is caused or love withheld from the people we trust most. But I’d wager that what sinks in deeper is when love is shown when it is least deserved at a time when it’s most needed. A love that simultaneously comforts and rescues. The Good News is that hope is not found in Christ-like types but in Jesus Christ himself. The carpenter from Nazareth who meets us in a life filled with pain and hope, sorrow and joy. Whose unwinked eyes close with death on Friday’s cross. Whose scarred, resurrected hands rub awake those same eyes on Sunday morning before rolling away the stone and making all sad things untrue.