I open this series of posts on this latest (and greatest – OK maybe not but it is at least great) offering from Arcade Fire with a consideration of the album cover.
The cover is exactly the same as the featured image shown above, and the following observations of the image can be made:
- the sign seamlessly shows the same mountains and sky which are behind it
- the mountains on the sign are clearer and show more fine detail and thus would seem to be a “better” image
- the sign contains the glaringly illuminated words “EVERYTHING NOW”
- the sign is held up by some ugly manmade supports
- the sign has a few speakers attached to it
- there are no “signs of life” in the photo such as living creatures
A few thematic and conceptual “tie-ins” can be made between these observations and the songs on the album
- “signage” and “signs”
- natural creation vs. manmade “creation” – two “orders of creation” so to speak
- the concept of difference between these two orders
- the appeal to use our higher critical, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual faculties to evaluate these different orders
The highlighted transition to the song “Everything Now” begins with these first two lines – thus highlighting this difference – the juxtaposition between the orders of creation depicted on the cover:
Every inch of sky’s got a star
Every inch of skin’s got a scar
So to summarize all of this, I think that the cover was an ingenious way of depicting the two “orders of creation” in which “we live and move and have our being.” The one is natural, beautiful, filled with multitudes of stars. The other is manmade, too often ugly and filled with a multitude of scars. The manmade sets forth that it is “better” – brighter and clearer, and supposedly easier to read and understand. Granted, the natural world is difficult to “read” – a glowing sign reading “everything now” is easy to read. But is it really better? Is it even the real world or is it just a fake reality that we manufacture thinking that will provide the answers we long for? That is actually the basic definition of what an idol is – something we create and then worship as though it created us – because in a sense when that transpires we are creating our own selves. But the ultimate question is whether the reality we create is real or fake, whether it can provide everything we hope life is for.
I think Arcade Fire with this album has produced perhaps their most unified and cohesive conceptual album that is ultimately about the “big questions” – with “everything now” being the either/or to consider. But what is the alternative to “everything now?” Is there an alternative that is reality? Or is a self-created reality all there can be, even if it inevitably is fake and produces scars on every inch of our lives (if we are willing to think about it).
So, as for what I’ve set forth an an introductory fashion in this post, the proof will be in the contents of all the songs in the album. I hope that anyone that might be reading this has already listened enough times to have discovered that, negative reviews notwithstanding, this is a great and up to par offering by Arcade Fire. I for one, have a feeling it could grow to be my favorite, which may become evident as I proceed to work through the amazing collection of songs.
Thanks for reading and for any comments!
A Post post-date revision: I posted this yesterday, and now today I learned from a video interview I watched with Win Butler that this photo was taken in Death Valley. He mentioned something about it being “the lowest place” as having significance. So how might this change my read of the two orders of creation?
I think that the basic fact of two orders remains since the photo does show both. That the natural order is one of the most desolate places on the planet perhaps enhances a sense of ambiguity or even unknowing regarding the significance of what the natural order is a “sign” of? Anything? I had originally mentioned that the natural word is “difficult to read” in contrast to our manmade presentation/reproduction of it. So the “better” image, even of a “death valley” may still show that our human “spin” on life is basically what we try to do with life. We try to make it better – even if we’re not quite sure it is actually better at all. If there are no “signs of life” in the world does our manufacturing of signs create them? Can we create life “ex nihilo” (out of nothing)?
So it seems to me that the “natural order” desert scene juxtaposed with our “man made order” enhanced desert scene makes makes a point that is best made through the use of the desert scene. The desert is known through experience, and in religious and philosophical tradition as the place of deprivation and death, trial and temptation, the realm of the demonic. In biblical literature this is behind the conclusion that life is at the present time largely a pilgrimage through the desert wilderness toward the future return home to the garden of Eden. I believe this conceptual imagery is presented in places in the album and so obviously the photo fits the overall concept being presented. (This should become evident as this series of posts progresses.)
In conclusion then, I think that the basic statement being made through the album cover may be that the endeavor to enhance the human wilderness experience as though it is an experience of “everything now” is an endeavor in futility and self-deception. The remaining question then is whether there are any “signs of life” that provide an alternative – such as an actual future hope beyond the desert wilderness. But in any case, these words seem the only proper commentary on mere human enhancement of “Death Valley” –
Stop pretending, you’ve got
(Everything now!) I want it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.