Everything Everything’s fifth album RE-ANIMATOR is an innovative masterclass in millennial despair, soundtracking the age of fatbergs and internet trolls while remaining radio-friendly. The group ditch their detail-oriented studio finish for a live, flawed, and honest sound.
There has been an increasing trend in recent years for alternative pop acts to drop their self-indulgent narratives about unrequited love affairs for more pressing issues: the climate crisis; the rise of the internet; new technologies; and the state of Western politics. No band does it quite as well as Everything Everything. From the beginning of their career, the Manchester quartet has aimed straight at the cultural psyche, ridiculing the milieu of modern life with satirical wit, while simultaneously creating hooks memorable enough for any mainstream radio station.
The art-pop group’s latest album RE-ANIMATOR throws cliched political statements out the window and instead creates an innovative blend of millennial despair with primordial imagery: re-animated monsters; deified fatbergs; Armageddon; and singer Jonathan Higgs’s latest lyrical catalyst – the Bicameral Mind theory. Coined by the psychologist Julian Jaynes, the theory posits that the human mind was divided into two separate components. One would give commands or “speak”, while the other would “listen” and undertake duties. As the theory goes, over time the two divisions evolved, merging together to bring about the self-conscious mind of the modern man.
Musically, the band have kept their distinct, erratic style: repetitive vocal phrasing ornaments; snappy bass lines; and convoluted guitar sounds. However, this time around, their usual heavily embroidered sound is stripped back. Their musicianship gives way to songs that are live and fresh, and lightly punctured with embellished melodies. This outcome may be down to the fact that the album was recorded in only two weeks. Instrumentalist Alex Robertshaw explains in an interview with Apple Music: “We forced ourselves to move on before we ended up with 60 bass takes. There’s loads of mistakes all over the record, but we left them in because it’s real.” He explains that they wanted to create music that sounded like a live performance as they “never felt like [they’ve] managed to get that across on record before”.
But has this worked for a band that have always been so detail-oriented in the studio?
The album certainly sets off on the right track. Lost Powers begins with a light-hearted yet ironic mantra. Higgs’s signature falsetto accompanies an upbeat guitar as the song builds into a burly chorus. Assuring the listener, “come on you’ve only lost your mind”, the vocals establish the album’s narrative: the world’s gone tits up and it’s totally normal that we’re all losing our minds. A stoic shrug of the shoulders leads us to our next tune.
Big Climb: a millennial anthem of doom with a twist. The song perpetuates a nihilist philosophy with Peter Gabriel-inspired grooves. The band pray for the end of times, chanting through the chorus that they’re “not afraid that it will kill us yet, we are afraid that it won’t.” That “big climbs” always end with “big falls” and if humanity has flown too close to the sun, this song wants us to celebrate the ride back down.
Peppered throughout the album are sounds heavily influenced by Radiohead. It Was a Monstering takes us into this new territory for Everything Everything. Haunting Thom Yorke-inspired vocals accompany polyphonic improvisation as Higgs conjures up images of the boogeyman, reciting various names for the monsters under our beds. If any song on the album demonstrates the live spirit they wanted to replicate, it is this one. Moonlight is not the usual rhythmically diverse song we expect to hear, but produces a steady bass line and repetitive guitars fit for Radiohead’s later discography, while Lord of the Trapdoor exudes a style similar to The Bends. Grunge-inspired guitars lead to heavy breakdowns as the band explore one of their favourite topics: internet trolls.
The album has a couple of perfect radio-friendly pop tunes. Planets opens with arpeggiated synths worthy of a sci-fi score as the band play with half-time rhythms. Higgs poses the question of nature versus convention as he asks society: “Can you love me more than the planets?”. Arch-Enemy, the most dance-worthy song on the album is equally the most absurd. As always, their most upbeat songs usually come at the price of their most grotesque imagery. Higgs holds up a very hideous mirror to humanity. A “Sphinx of grease”; “blubber mound”; and “sewage moon” are various ways Higgs describes a deified fatberg as humanity “bows before” their own waste. A strong, bright hook ends with the wailing of a frenzied guitar solo.
There are a few standout songs on the album that break convention and demonstrate Everything Everything at their creative heights. Grizzly and gurgling synths complete the soundscape of Black Hyena, creating a timbre similar to the sound of clanking bones. The song casts a shadow against the album’s lighter tracks, with Higgs creating images of Frankensteinian monsters coming to life to greet their masters. In Birdsong was the first single off the album and most prominently features references to the Bicameral Mind theory. A quasi-classical piece of music fit for a film score is played on synths rather than by an orchestra. The ethereal track takes us through the evolution of the brain from the ignorant bicameral mind to hearing “birdsong, song in reverse” marking the beginning of a cataclysmic change in humanity. The dawn of self-consciousness.
The album’s conclusion is certainly the pinnacle of their less-is-more approach. The Actor is perhaps one of Everything Everything’s simplest songs. Not their hardest-hitting, but just as musically interesting as others. Straight rhythms and bright guitars run consistently throughout the song while reverberated vocals and colourful marimbas accentuate. They finish their album off with a song that doesn’t stop to take a breath: Violent Sun. Although repetitive and restless, Violent Sun adheres to their formula of simplicity and brings the album to a sharp, rousing end. Although not as technically diverse as other tracks, the song’s energy will clearly translate enormously well into live performances.
Overall, the band have proven that they don’t have to be all-in or all-out and have succeeded in finding the balance between eccentricity and simplicity. Some songs lack their usual punch yet remain musically rich and innovative enough to carry the album. Everything Everything has turned the weirdness level up and certainly reanimated their sound for fresh and energetic live shows in the new year.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Top Track: In Birdsong