Review Summary: What's beastly about beastly beha- OOH, SHINY
Of all the musical acts to emerge and steadily accumulate fame through the 2010s, I think it’s safe to say Everything Everything carved a niche of their own: the Manchester quartet and their divisive brand of erratic, electronic-laden politi-pop evolved in frightening sync with the decade’s global discord. Early efforts Man Alive
saw a band trying to figure themselves out through trial and error and offered some artsy highs, but the one-two punch of 2015’s Get to Heaven
and 2017’s A Fever Dream
is where they really took off, stringing together whole records as fulfilling as their best standout moments.
Just in time for the world to get turned upside-down, as it happened! Taking inspiration from rampant xenophobia and the steady rise of fascism in the West, Jon Higgs quickly revealed his hand as one of the most definitive lyricists of his generation, waxing both poetic and blunt about how we’re all just scared beasts on a rock, many of whom lack complete awareness of the disastrous trajectory we've inherited and continue to forge. Earth’s on fire, distrust is the new normal, and we even have a literal plague on our hands now. If ever there were a year to anticipate a new Everything Everything record, 2020 is it.
But instead, the boys expressed interest in taking a break from the gloom. In an interview with Apple Music, Higgs prefaced RE-ANIMATOR
by saying he had “hit a brick wall” with his approach on the last two records; “I don’t want to talk about how crap the world is. I want to talk about something new.” I don’t blame him for trying, and I also don’t blame him for climate change, echo chambers, capitalist overlordry, and more doomsday topics still cropping up on this new batch of songs. Higgs derived most of his lyrical prompts here from a psychological theory positing that the human mind was once “bicameral,” that is, characterized by thought processed between the brain’s hemispheres as separate entities incapable of recognizing their shared consciousness. The jury is out on whether or not that theory should be granted scientific weight, but as an exercise in narrative voice, Higgs riffs on the concept in familiar ways. The animalization of humanity, dry sarcasm, and cognitive dissonance in the face of terror are all waters he’s waded in before, and even if the political tie-ins occupy the background instead of the foreground here, listeners hoping to hear him sound off on the state of the world should still be satisfied assuming they can absorb the big picture.
It’s just that on RE-ANIMATOR
, the picture isn’t, you know…particularly big. According to the band, their previous records involved splicing together the most “perfect” portions of dozens of takes until the final performance was as ideal as they could make it. Here, everything was recorded within a two-week period in order to present to us a looser, less synthetic version of their chemistry. That’s a laudable goal , but studio perfectionism is no small part of what makes Everything Everything tick like a well-oiled machine, and despite the intent to do away with it, the effort doesn’t always translate. Synths are paradoxically crucial to these songs yet rarely allow them to evolve beyond their basic components. Sustaining momentum, something Everything Everything had nailed down to a science starting with Get to Heaven
, is tossed out the window; “Moonlight” and “It Was a Monstering” respectively feel like nothing more than In Rainbows
and Hail to the Thief
-era Radiohead worship at best, “The Actor” reneges its penultimate track status by dissolving into a fade-out right when it should ride its climax, and early preview cut “Planets” sounds plucked straight out of a corny edutainment program.
Fortunately, the worthwhile tracks are slightly more plentiful in number and rewarding to revisit. “Lost Powers” and “Lord of the Trapdoor” playfully juxtapose their shimmering, sparse, and sunny arrangements with deranged, paranoid lyrics. “Big Climb,” replaced at the last minute as the lead single due to its unfortunate implications in a COVID-addled world, is classic Everything Everything, showcasing off-kilter rhythms, guitars that might as well be squawky keyboards, and Higgs running the vocal gamut with layered harmonies, uncountable jumps from chest to head voice, and rapid-fire (nearly rapped, even. Remember “Blast Doors?”), snarled flows. “Arch Enemy” is another choice single, fusing an irresistible funk groove with lines about congealed fat, just because they can, I guess. And “In Birdsong,” the actual
first song released from the record, is perhaps its finest cut, a gorgeous epiphany of a slow-burn that manages to convey the concept of becoming the world’s first sapient lifeform with an energy that verges on otherworldly.
’s biggest surprise comes by way of its closer, however, which is the first time we hear unabashed, sincere optimism from Everything Everything in years. “Violent Sun” doesn’t exactly resound with climactic flair, but its new wave progressions are steady enough to support Higgs’ final chorus like a stiff middle finger to depression, however rational it is in this age; “I wanna be there when the wild wave comes and we’re swept away.” Standing in direct contrast to a man who didn’t “want to be there when the sky is gone” and spent two full albums immersing himself in the start of the end times, this marks a new mission statement for Everything Everything; the world won’t turn any comfier overnight, but it will continue to rotate.
, so does the band. It’s not a step forward, a tumble back, or even really a detour, just a more esoteric, contemplative way of looking at the same inconsolable mess they’ve previously explored. That the record at times sounds like Everything Everything have gone on autopilot is a shame, but those swings and misses are just that: swings. RE-ANIMATOR
doesn’t necessarily feel reinvigorated as a whole, but it acknowledges that an ever-declining status quo dulls the blade of wit, and sometimes in order to properly sharpen it, you’ve got to get lost in its sheen. After all, as the kings of their ilk, it’s not a race anymore, and I’m not afraid Everything Everything will run out of sounds to tinker with, ideas to kick around, or concurrent delusions to manifest - I’m afraid that they won’t.