“Is there something wrong with all of this?
Or is there something wrong with me?”

As a middle class, leftist, liberal white guy, unfairly privileged by education and circumstance, I find myself relating to the above sentiment, as expressed by Jonathan Higgs on ‘New Deep’, the penultimate track of his band’s excellent fourth album. It’s impossible to follow the news from one day to the next and not come to one of two conclusions: either the world has gone insane, or I have. Of course, that’s a pretty one-dimensional and self-aggrandising way of looking at things. And Higgs knows that too. On A Fever Dream, Everything Everything examine, with a typically sardonic eye, the fallout from the year’s major political events, but they don’t spare people like me, or themselves, from skewering.

Looming over A Fever Dream are the ongoing farce of Brexit (in all its gradations of firmness, from helplessly flaccid to artificially turgid), and the election to the globe’s highest seat of power of a Tango-ed television personality who makes Narcissus himself turn away from the pool to say “hey dude, dial it back.” Those events are like the “shadows [that] fall on all things” on album closer, ‘White Whale’. They’re alluded to via the divided neighborhoods in ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and ‘Put Me Together’. They’re there in the hilarious takedown of President Trump in ‘Big Game’ (“Someone's gonna pull your big trousers down/ And I think you might explode”). They’re there in the post-truth anthem, ‘Run The Numbers’, a song that will surely be on repeat in the car stereo of Michael “people in this country have had enough of experts” Gove. Hell, they are the fever dream of the album’s monolithic title track. But I, and millions like me are there too, in ‘Ivory Tower’; stuck in our liberal echo chamber, wondering how the hell it all came to this, when all our Facebook friends were, like, totally voting Remain or Hillary. As the song goes, we created a vacuum for it.

From the above description, you’d be excused for assuming that A Fever Dream is an insufferably overbearing and portentous listen, rife with condescension. But that’s Everything Everything’s ultimate trick. No matter how heavy or intellectual the material gets, the music is, invariably, some of the most inventive, surprising and downright catchy pop music you’re likely to hear (unless, y’know, Higgs’ falsetto is like nails on a blackboard to you). ‘Night of the Long Knives,’ with its monumental off beat synth rush; the hilariously cocksure riff and solo that serves to embody the President’s inflated self-image in ‘Big Game’; the quintessential ear worm that is ‘Run The Numbers’, with its crowd-pleasing chorus vocal melody that recalls ‘Kemosabe’ (a fan favourite off Arc). All of these are moments that hit the pleasure centre of the brain like only the best pop music can. It’s all part of the brilliant subversion at Everything Everything’s core: they can sneak serious explorations of mental health, of the rise of ISIS, of the political machinations that erode the human connections between us, past their listeners because they have wrapped these high-minded concerns up in a package of eminently re-listenable, deliriously creative pop tunes.

The band also avoids the pitfalls of becoming cold and alienating despite their frontman’s intellectualising. After all, Higgs is a man who can move festival crowds to tears with a line like “baby it’s alright/ it’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair.” So he’s no stranger to wringing emotion from unusual concepts. On A Fever Dream, the emotional centrepiece is ‘Put Me Together’, wherein the narrator observes his neighbours, who wash their cars, watch their children, celebrate the same public holidays, and yet, are, purportedly, “nothing like you and me.” It’s a simple idea, simply expressed, but it casts an emotionally affecting light into the gaping fissures that have opened in our communities as a result of the ill-advised powerplays and poisonous discourse of self-serving politicians. It’s fitting too, that, musically, ‘Put Me Together’ is probably Everything Everything’s loosest ever composition, specifically during its passages of cacophonous instrumental breakdown. As drums clatter and synths rise and guitars seemingly spin into oblivion, the cumulative effect is mesmerising and devastating.

Another way in which Higgs endears himself as a lyricist is through his use of dark humour and unorthodox turns of phrase. ‘Ivory Tower’ opens with Higgs imploring the listener to “pin the bunting on the gallows” and “dance around it with your blackface on.” ‘Run The Numbers’ sees Higgs adopt the role of a highfalutin, fact-denying cabinet minister: “Hey now professor, less of your lip/ Give me what I asked for, I don't like the cut of your jib.” Higgs has even stated that he purposely used more childish vocabulary and phrases on A Fever Dream in order to reflect the tone of contemporary political discourse. This is most evident in ‘Big Game’ and its numerous grotesquely strange insults (“bovine balloon,” “wrinkled little boxing glove,” “blood blubber head”), or in the line about being the richest and best of the apes on ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’. In its merciless skewering of progressive liberals, cut off emotionally from life outside their safe, insulated, urban bubbles, ‘Ivory Tower’ approaches the levels of violence of ‘Get to Heaven’ during lines about getting crushed in a Waitrose aisle and pounded under fist. It’s a jarring, frightening, hilarious detail, and also plays into how unapologetically British a band Everything Everything are.

Besides being reactions to the state of the world around them, each Everything Everything album has also been a reaction to the Everything Everything album that preceded it. On ‘Regret’, a standout single from Get to Heaven, some clever repetition sees the song’s narrator ask “did you think that everything, everything would change?” Well, change they do, but all whilst continuing to be unmistakably themselves. Where Man Alive was hyperactive and almost silly in a chuck-ALL-the-fucking-sinks-in kind of way, Arc was more restrained and introspective, with a more mature sense of songcraft. Get to Heaven then upped the energy levels again with a cartoonishly polished sonic palette, images of macabre violence, and political commentary and high musical drama. A Fever Dream seems to strike a middle ground between Arc and Get to Heaven, mostly dropping the dayglo sounds for a generally darker vibe, in keeping with the artwork adorning its cover. That faintly nightmarish image of a swirling mass of intertwined naked bodies, simultaneously coming together and pulling apart is central to the album’s themes (and is explicitly described in 'Put Me Together’); we may be circling the drain but, like it or not, we’re in it together.

One clear stylistic holdover from Get To Heaven is the continued and expanded use of dance music touchstones. ‘Can’t Do’ takes the rave-y synth stabs of ‘Distant Past’ and makes them the backbone of the song, rather than just a thematically relevant, ironic genre appropriation. Admittedly, along with ‘Desire’, which flirts too aggressively with Muse’s Absolution-era aesthetic, this song represents the weakest (albeit still pretty good) material A Fever Dream has to offer. Album highlight, ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’, strips back to an a capella rendition of the chorus, before fading the synth line back up out of the murk of the mix to meet the beat. And then there’s the title track, which, after a haunting choral intro and a delicate piano section in which Higgs returns to the subject of neighbours in conflict, locks onto its repeating piano figure and four on the floor pulse. “Lord I see a fever dream before me now,” Higgs intones for the majority of the track’s duration. Sure, it sounds like dance music, but the only dance you can imagine yourself doing to it is rocking back and forth, hugging your knees, desperately trying to convince yourself of the unreality of the situation in front of your eyes.

After the mad rush of ‘Ivory Tower’ - in which the song’s title is repeated incessantly as if by a malfunctioning robot, before a thrilling, circling riff and guitar solo cap off the hysteria - the album enters it’s final coda; the calm after the storm. ‘New Deep’ settles the mood with a dramatically mournful instrumental which leads seamlessly into 'White Whale’, a song which, like 'Warm Healer’ on Get to Heaven, closes the album by bringing the topic of love into the fray. But it's by no means all lollipops and crisps. Atop prepared piano tinkling à la Aphex Twin's drukqs, Higgs sings of wanting his beloved to be okay, but also likens her love to the titular mythic sea mammal. And we all know how the quest to conquer that beast ended. RIP Ahab. The song plays out to an orchestra-augmented climax that recalls the most cinematic moments from A Moon Shaped Pool (not the first Radiohead comparison Everything Everything will have received), with Higgs repeating the ambiguous refrain of “never tell me that we can't go further.” Is he half imploring, half threatening his beloved to never leave him? Is he, in a state of desperate hopefulness, asserting his belief in humanity's ability to progress, to pull itself out of the quagmire? Call me pessimistic, but I can't help but read it as, “don't tell me it can't get worse; I don't want to get my hopes up.” A Fever Dream won't necessarily make you feel better about everything; but, if you'll excuse the heavy-handedness of the pun, it will make you feel better about Everything Everything, and I, for one, have found consolation in that.