Review Summary: At Last! Escaping their own Silhouette.
For many of us, Get To Heaven is nigh undeniably a classic of the 2010s, an album inspired just as much by RnB as it was math rock, and possessed of wonderfully dense and visceral lyricism. This heady combination allowed it to capture the Zeitgeist of a country whose news cycle revolved around political corruption, terrorist attacks, and financial dismay, without feeling solely like a sort of political messaging campaign - not to mention that it helped reinvent the concept album. The band's subsequent and prior albums are all fantastic works, but aside from A Fever Dream, Get to Heaven's darker dragon twin, they all ploughed different furrows, most focusing more on musical experimentation and crafting individual stories, than creating a singular, semi-narrative feel.
Seven years on, and Everything Everything have once again captured the mood of the times, with a formula in some ways similar, and in some ways, refreshingly different. The bile, rage, and political anxiety is now more of a vague background - instead, we are given a story of love, trauma, and recovery in the age of rapidly encroaching technology and shifting social standards and messages, told through the eyes of digital native deuteragonists Kevin and Jennifer. Instead of muscular pop-rock and RnB, we are given electro-pop, dance music, and reflective ballads. Yet this gear-shift is no case of selling out or becoming more immediate at the expense of nuance and creativity; while “I Want A Love Like This” is more capable of setting a nightclub alight than any of their prior music, “Leviathan” is their most mature and sombre track yet, one that is intimate and tense. Instead of going for the huge sound most of their closers inhabit, “Software Greatman” chooses purposefully to leave the listener waiting for a colossal repeated chorus that never comes – fading away to provide us with a hopeful little sequence called “Kevin’s Rave”. This is the sound of a band unafraid to be joyous and accessible, yet also more mature and understated than ever before.
There are some tracks which nod to their earlier legacy; “HEX” is a voracious shocker, embellished with lyrics nodding to the “eggs” that vocalist Jon Higgs described back in “No Reptiles”, and possessed of some angular chorus guitarwork that could have been ripped from a math-pop banger on debut Man Alive. “Born Under a Meteor” builds on the sonic palette of unintentional Trans anthem and cosy ballad “The Actor”, its soaring and bittersweet cry of “lucky me” skying over 50s percussion and a hazy atmosphere. “Cut UP!” Is even reminiscent of an early Foals song (albeit on some performance enhancers), which checks out given bassist Jeremy Pritchard’s role as their occasional tour musician.
Jon’s lyrics, as always, demand a lot of reading between the lines, but unlike with prior albums, they can also be painfully honest, as in the opener and closer, which feel separate to the Kevin/Jennifer song on the rest of the album, but instead like personal letters from Jon to the audience. At the start, he complains “it’s easy to lie, when nothing makes sense anymore” – but pushing past this whirlwind of confusion and deception, he admits in the final track that “I don’t know how to get over this thing ‘cos it’s always there”. While tracks on prior albums have a similarly plaintive feel, such as New Deep, there is something telling about how these are used to open and close the record – in a way, they suggest that the journey of Kevin and Jennifer as being a presentation of Jon’s own life.
There is something ironic about this honesty, given that 5% of the lyrics are ripped from an AI (also named Kevin) that Jon fed to the brim with Linkedin’s bureaucracy, 4chan’s vitriol, Beowulf’s enchanting wordplay, and Confucius’ measured prose. While refusing to disclose which lyrics are the Ai’s, and which are his, there are other sources – the jarringly silly “Obama in the streets, but he’s Osama in the streets” came from a Tinder profile, while the heartrendingly sincere “when I first saw you, I fell in love” came from a eulogy. More impressive is that the above quotations are from songs adjacent to each other in the tracklist; the band have been able to write an album that can shift moods in an instant, from indie slow-burner to trap beats.
This honesty is the most positive result of Jon’s foray into more personal lyricism, but it is not the only one. By choosing to focus on universalizable characters and experiences, instead of tyrants and terrorists, he has made the music far more relatable and its stories more engaging. All of us can relate to the alienated boredom Jon sings about, left to rot in our rooms “just you and your mobile phone”, mindlessly consuming ads and the same trashy food, each of us becoming a “Pizza Boy”. Through Jennifer, we are given a tale about trauma and recovery – her titular song details her listlessness and emotional instability, which (we find out) is down in no small part to an abusive relationship selectively forgotten on uneasy and minimalistic dance-pop banger Bad Friday, which she escapes in the bombastic Shark Week. Kevin, on the other hand, is fraught and aggressive, drawing on the more traditional Higgs trademark of political extremism and internet politics. He contemplates the arson of a North-Eastern childhood icon on standout track “Burning Down Metroland”, while quite literally flirting with the power of the internet in “My Computer” (which presents the world wide web as some sort of robotic dominatrix who can “crush every blue boy on the planet” under her heel!) and struggling to figure out who to believe (and “what would happen if I click” a hot singles ad) on the frenetic “Cut UP!”. These two different themes and storylines are brought together in the tranquil, Smithsian “Kevin’s Car”, which describes the feeling of trust and safety conjured by letting somebody else take the wheel. Of course, it wouldn’t be an EE album without something a little more sinister going on – it is suggested that Kevin and Jennifer murdered the latter’s abusive partner and put his decapitated “head in the dustbin”… But hey, it’s a step up from the firing squad of Warm Healer.
The final, and perhaps most significant departure from their prior work, is the production. After watching over the shoulders of countless predecessors, guitarist Alex Robertshaw (under his alias of Kaines) produced and mixed the album, with some help from longtime collaborator Tom A.D. The result is that this album sounds gorgeous – there is perfect clarity on every song, with each instrument being mixed so that it can shine. The main victim of RE-ANIMATOR’s production, drummer Mike Spearman, is given the sound and space he deserves at last. Alex’s modular synth (also something new for the band) shines whenever it is employed, creating both erratic beats and a phenomenal texture on “I Want a Love Like This”, and more eccentric production choices such as some more active panning work really well instead of feeling shoehorned for the sake of being weird.
Overall, this album has captured the worries of our age. Just as the album’s cover and lyrics were generated with the help of an AI, so too is technology an ever-present element of our lives; not necessarily a bad one, but one that must be used wisely. Raw Data Feel not only warns us about this, but shows in its creation an example we can follow – and, perhaps, can help us open up about and acknowledge our own traumas, just as Jon does in its conclusion.