Everything Everything are lost in A Fever Dream

A Fever DreamIn the seven years since Everything Everything hatched their jabbering debut Man Alive, a record that seemed destined to be filed alongside Fenech Soler and Ou Est Le Swimming Pool as curios of the period, a lot has changed. Its follow-up Arc put down a marker that they could do more than simply yelp and writhe, binding the band's more staccato movements into something positively elegant. By the time we reached 2015's Get to Heaven, the band were unstoppable; like an athlete at the apex of their game, their genius felt effortless, performatively cut through with cute feints and bravado. Returning with fourth album A Fever Dream, how could the Manchester four-piece possibly fail to score?

More than most, Everything Everything throw a lot of weight into their opening tracks, and how they set out their stalls often tells the story of the record to come. "Cough Cough" debuted a new parlour trick of spluttering their way through verses, then dazzling with a grand, emotional chorus; "To The Blade" was the sound of a band listening to Radiohead's "2+2=5" and deciding that it needed a bigger drop. But both swung like a coked-up grizzly bear, and when they hit, they connected. On album number four, opener "Night of the Long Knives" starts low-key, before the big reveal: swirling air-raid synths, and the chanted line, "Shame about your neighbourhood..." It's an anxious introduction, and a little more cautious than it sounds, delivering a succession of jabs without ever committing to a hammer blow. Sure enough, this is how A Fever Dream proceeds.

Likewise, "Can't Do" functions as this record's "Distant Past", and recycles that track's signature move: guitars and drums drop out for the chorus, leaving nothing but Jonathan Higgs' falsetto and a syncopated, Ibiza-ready synth line. It's another trick worth repeating, and works again here, albeit in a safer, more radio-friendly form. Unfortunately second single "Desire" is the band's first unqualified misstep, pitching so squarely at Radio 1's daytime playlist that the resulting compressed mush sounds more like The 2nd Law-era Muse - or worse, Take That's 2010 Muse impression, "Kidz".

A little like Matt Bellamy, the lyrics are largely comprised of oblique, scattershot references to leaders, systems, and "corridors of power" that all wave in the general direction of beaurocracy and corruption, without ever really pointing a finger. You don't need me to tell you that they're probably all about Brexit, or the Tories, or, you know, capitalism; you certainly don't need to read far between the lines to assume that "Big Game" is about Donald Trump. But Everything Everything have never really been a storytelling band. Like Anthony Kiedis, you sense that for whatever ideas Higgs channels into his lyrics, the primary objective is something cool and impressionistic to shout over the rhythm section - which is fine, that's how they work best. When he does try to paint a scene, as in "Ivory Tower" and its depiction of middle-class racism ("Come and crush me in a Waitrose aisle"), it feels a little forced.

Which leaves us with the music. Perhaps the saddest thing about A Fever Dream isn't that it's a bad album - because it really isn't, all things considered - but that it doesn't seem to believe in itself. There's a melancholic streak coursing through the whole thing, and rather than taking the band down darker or more beautiful paths, it just feels hollow. At least four of the tracks here are sulky ballads, and even the record's few moments of elation feel compromised by sadness. The chorus of "Run the Numbers", for example, adapts the exquisite guitar work from 2013's "Kemosabe" (surely Alex Robertshaw's greatest gift to the world), and leaves the listener pining to hear that track instead, like catching a glimpse of your ex in the street while out holding hands with a pale imitation. I miss the showboating, the cocky Everything Everything who swanned around like they owned the place, perhaps because for a while they did. As it stands, A Fever Dream feels less like a confident step forward and more like a retreat. I hope they come back swinging.

Release: 18th August 2017, RCA


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    1. Everything Everything are lost in A Fever Dream – Live List - 22/08/2017

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