The first time I heard “MY KZ UR BF” I thought I had discovered
something other-worldly. I had never really known what art rock was, but the
rhythm and reckless amount of falsetto caught me off guard. I listened to that
track incessantly for months, I couldn’t let go of how different and fun and
impressive and catchy it was. That album ended up being nominated for the
Mercury Prize, alongside some impressive competition: James Blake, Metronomy,
Adele. (PJ Harvey eventually took the title.) But it was that one track that set
the tone for my unwavering love of Everything Everything.
The band is from Manchester, led by Jonathan Higgs, who is the main
force in songwriting and directs almost all of the group’s music videos. (To be
fair though, all four members have writing credits on almost every track.)
Higgs’s voice shapes the sound of the band, carrying emotion and significance,
which was more palpable in their sophomore album, Arc. Widely regarded as more accessible than their debut effort, Arc also received critical acclaim. The
lyrics were less complex, and though they never dilute their intentions, their
political views still felt less incendiary. That album is one of my favorite
albums of all time, but certainly was not the height of Everything Everything.
Of course I didn’t know that until I heard their third studio album, Get to Heaven.
If I had to describe Get to
Heaven in one word, I’d say ‘bleak.’ Sure, it sounds like a ton of fun,
with nonsensical phrases everywhere and vocal progressions that would make any
current mainstream pop artist weep, but dig a little deeper, and you find
despair. Heck, the opening line is “So you think there’s no meaning in anything
that we do.” It’s rarely this explicit, though, as the lyrics are as full of double entendres as they were in Man
Alive. Some of the most unusual lines all are tied to a theme of distrust
for authority figures, especially when he mentions stolen baboon faces and fat spoiled
children. The album has two acts, (three if you include the bonus tracks) and there
we see a shift in the narrative.
The first act takes quasi-familiar riffs and chops them into oblivion. All
the singles are from this part of the album, probably because they are the most
approachable songs, but this made me wary. Everything Everything have a brand
of spontaneity that I felt was not living up to the expectations that I had
after two other albums that were full of surprises. “Distant Past” was the
first single and was not my favorite, because I found it predictable to an
extent. But the story grows from this point. “Take me to the distant past, I
want to go back!” Higgs wails. If only we could change the past to fix the
problems of today. I suppose that’s a common sentiment, if it is only a way to
shift blame away from the person casting judgment. But then again, we don’t
want to look toward the future, because the uncertainty of that is
intimidating, which EE covers in another single, “Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread.”
They even touch upon the other side of this in “Regret,” dealing with emotional
backlash that we face over time, though the story in this one suggests the
gravest of consequences. Higgs left the song ambiguous in the
context of current affairs, not correcting speculations that presumed the track referenced Jihadi John, a Kuwaiti-British
boy that is purported to be behind many of ISIL’s high profile beheadings of
American and British citizens. But more broadly, “Regret” accelerates the pace
of the album, manifesting fear into grim reality.
“The Wheel” is the act one finale, transitioning us into the sharper
wit of Higgs, or at least a blunter brand of his ever-sharp wit. “The
politician bleats so blind with his hard hat on,” offering his constituents
nothing but empty rhetoric. The title suggests the idea of the establishment,
with politicians in the “wheel,” turning infinitely but actually accomplishing
nothing. Higgs wrote the track in response to the rise of the UKIP, a
right-wing political party that is now the largest from the UK in the EU
Parliament- a fact that does not sit well with many Britons.
In the next act, we feel a sense of hopeless anxiety. “Fortune 500” is
less about the evils of Wall Street and more about the warped mind of someone
brainwashed into believing their actions are for the greater good. The
narrative specifically describes assassinating the Queen, but a more broad
interpretation gives it more weight alongside the track that follows, “Blast
Doors.” Higgs is angrier and demands more answers, but rarely is able to find
any. In the space of three and a half minutes, Higgs is able to condemn Coca
Cola, the nouveau riche, political sheep (blind followers), and his own mortal insecurity.
My favorite line on the album takes all of these, and other motifs, and asks
one simple question:
“Whether you’re a have-not or a
have, I got a question:
Are you living dead or is this
some kind of possession?”
Everything Everything writes some of the most seamless art about
technology. I’ve seen TV shows and read books where social media is more of an
inside joke that immediately becomes dated thanks to the speed at which
technology improves. Throughout both Man
Alive and Arc, we see social
media and cyber surveillance ruin lives, though it feels raw and not at all
like a short-lived gag. Get to Heaven
is no different, with forgotten passwords and the desire to hit ‘undo’ on real
life decisions. Toward the end of “Zero Pharaoh,” it feels as though technology
is fighting back, with the audio manipulated to sound like electrocution. This
leads into the record’s climax, “No Reptiles.” Higgs changes perspective, abandoning
satire for a more patronizing, even openly insulting, tone. But it all harkens
back to the larger narrative of having a distrust for people in power, whether
through religious or political means.
Even when this album sounds brighter, we sense Higgs’ acerbic tongue.
Take “Brainchild.” This track reminds me immensely of the song I fell in love
with, “MY KZ UR BF,” with a catchy but unexpected tempo and lyrics that even
for me are remarkably easy to sing along with. Ay, there’s the rub: the lyrics
are also quite sarcastic.
“Love is all you need to know
Are you trying to be clever?
Cause you’re better when you don’t.”
This is a bonus track on the record, and the others are equally biting,
and also more insane sonically. I love
“Hapsburg Lippp,” The beginning sounds like a freestyle throwdown at the high
school football halftime show, and the energy keeps increasing with the titular
refrain where we hear that signature falsetto. There’s also a rare instrumental
track, “Yuppie Supper,” which leads right into the grand finale, “Only as Good
as My God.” The last track relinquishes any anger or cynicism and we are left
with exactly what we started with: simple pessimism. How can we grow if those
that we look up to are leading us astray?
I had a lot of help in analysis of the lyrics from Genius, so go and
read in depth the meaning to this record. Hopefully there will be a US release
of the album soon.