When one of your favourite bands releases a disappointing record, it’s tempting to break critical ranks and exaggerate its shortcomings, such as they’re invariably amplified by the critic’s fandom; it’s even easier to submit to overreaction or contrarianism. So let me be completely clear that this is not one of those reviews. Arcade Fire’s Everything Now is a terrible, terrible album.

It’s as of now unconfirmed whether Win Butler and the grow-your-own-muesli gang have seriously pissed off a witch, but every particle of their songwriting talent seems to have magically dissipated. Everything Now never fucks with interest or novelty, and is frequently unlistenable. They’re attempting a new wave synth pop album spliced with punk seizures and catharses, where some of the crispest production of the year collapses into anarchy in a chord change; presumably imitating technology’s precariousness disguised as hypercompetence. The Afrobeat-lite grooves on the title track, ‘Signs of Life’ and ‘Put Your Money On Me’ are inoffensive, operative muzak – and the record’s sparing grace – but when it contorts into abrasion it becomes Yer Boyfriend’s attempt to make punk music using a farting synthesiser. ‘Creature Comfort’, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Infinite Content’ (not its immediate successor ‘Infinite_Content’, lmao see what they did there?) are the worst culprits for this. There’s no melody, no invention, no urgency, no emotion. It’s painful, with no merit to the pain.

Lyrically it’s not so much a tedious lecture on the evils of technology and the internet, as it is flaying you to death with a 1984 hardback. What clunks most immediately is the sneering condescension, the brow-beating irony sagging within every couplet about wanting “everything now.” The title track is a generalised lament; “We turn the speakers up till they break/ Cause every time you smile it’s fake!” Jesus. ‘Electric Blue’ meanwhile bemoans the inauthenticity and uniformity of artists today compared to David Bowie, incidentally illustrating quite neatly the self-indulgence of some of indie rock’s heavyweights; “A thousand boys that look like you/ Cover my eyes electric blue.” Fucking. ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ is erected as their operatic denouement, their unifying instructional anthem for our electro-dystopian reality equivalent to ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ or ‘No Cars Go’ or ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, but it’s a facetious shrug signifying nothing; “I’ve been hiding my scar in broad daylight bars/ Behind laugh tracks on TV/ If you can’t see the forest for the trees/ Just burn it all down.” Christ. When they chant about “no signs of life” 34 separate times on ‘Signs Of Life’, it’s difficult to discern whether they’re addressing society, or their pools of creativity.

There are times though, when Everything Now mutates from a bad record into a distasteful one. ‘Signs Of Life’ condemns people who party, suggesting the fruitlessness and vacuity of clubbing and anonymous sex – “love is hard, sex is easy/ God in Heaven, could you please me?” – and is insipidly cruel without saying anything meaningful or worthwhile. On ‘Creature Comfort’ Butler snarks over how “some girls hate their bodies/ Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback,” which translates as ill-judged at best, and misogynistic at worst. That it’s later followed by the sequence “She dreams about dying all the time/ She told me she came so close/ Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record,” dazed me. How could Butler patch these ideas together without recognising their plausible relationship, that they might be interrelated and potentially triggering for listeners? This obnoxious joke is actually revisited in the refrain of ‘Good God Damn’; “Put your favourite record on baby/ Fill the bathtub up/ You could say goodbye/ To your sick old friends.” Casually deploying suicide as a structural device in songs drowning in their own self-righteous flippancy transcends insensitivity into irresponsibility and malignance. This album is not just boring, it’s eminently dislikeable; not just heavy-handed, but callous.

Change is good, and maturation is better, but Arcade Fire haven’t matured. They’ve devolved from scrappy, euphoric yearning into a derivative of the soulless cynicism they revile; the “mate” who exploits every pub session as a platform to laconically mansplain why Facebook is the nadir of human civilisation. Congratulations guys; you’re not corporate stooges, but you’re still coming across as fucking assholes.

Everything Now isn’t so much a misstep as a faceplant, hitting every wrong note with the same precision they hit every right one on Funeral. It’s a compositional mess, somehow both gratuitously moralising and morally repugnant, duller than watching already-dry paint, and I don’t want to waste another word on it.