It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Reflektor by Arcade Fire.
Arcade Fire is a band that provokes feelings, though listening to this new record I’m not exactly sure why. Not that it isn’t a good record, it basically is, but the teeth-gnashing and the holy hosannas flung their direction seem wildly out of range for what is actually happening in the music. I haven’t really been paying attention to the pre-release hype except in a dim and unfocused way; like I am aware that obviously there must be some and my social network feeds were full of people sucking their own dicks about how excited/enraged over the mere existent of this record for a couple days. And I haven’t been watching web-clips or TV, so if they were performing wearing ding-dong outfits with Blade Runner make-up on I haven’t been subjected to it (okay, truth-attack: I have and they do, but I listened to the record first). They tread in the realm of big budget, rock think piece-bait, a la U2, Bowie (I thought that was the Dame himself on “Reflektors” and hey it is), the Clash, Radiohead, et al, which really blows some folks’ skirts up and pisses off others apparently. I’ve heard the other Arcade Fire records but I can’t tell you what they sound like, I’ve seen them in concert and can’t remember much about it, other than it seemed like they were really going for it in an old-school, production value sort of way. So there’s that.
Reflektor is a pretty good record, especially the first half (I’m ignoring the 10 minute “hidden track” and the tacked on last 5 and half minutes of “Supersymmetry” of tones, synth washes, strings and honest-to-god backwards tape sounds…really? Really? I guess that’s one of those things that no one tells you are stupid after you win a Grammy). At it’s best its kind of LCD Soundsystem-esque (James Murphy produced it) Rock Music, with some multi-kulti flourishes and 80’s retro moves color (I have realized the 1980’s act as a kind of retro-futuristic signifier for this generation that the 1950’s did for a previous one). Kind of like a less messy Sandinista, kind of. Even though parts remind me of the Faint you can’t really deny that “Joan of Arc” or “Reflektor” or “Normal Person” are all good, catchy rock songs. Not positive what any of them are about as the lyrics are pretty vague, but are overall fine. At the same time I can’t shake the feeling that if I did give a close read to the lyrics I might want to punch the guy, like on the Depeche Mode rip “Porno”.
Its way too fucking long though. Even slicing out the extraneous 16 minutes of straight filler (Jesus Christ) it really starts to plod in the second half. Though oddly none of the songs are exactly awful, it’s all just too much. I thought that the new Digital Age meant we weren’t going to have to suffer through 85 minute double albums anymore? There are some nice sonic details on the second half, “Afterlife” is pretty good. “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” is a cod-Prince/New Romantic synth action that sort of steals from a Make-Up song and pretty much lives up to the title. Mostly, the band just indulges their desire for sweeping, big feeling, important music a bit too much for my taste. Ditching a few songs and re-sequencing might help.
Oh and it’s a concept record, not that I could tell, which makes it like every other rock concept record ever. Overall, every song is kind of pleasant and well-executed and not really bad. If you haven’t already decided you hate it.
Whenever you’re crossing more than one album’s worth of music that you feel it needs to be done in two albums, you’re chancing your music. However, on the Arcade Fire’s fourth album, you’d never expect that a trip to Haiti and Jamaica to make the double album would produce the results you hear on Reflektor. Thankfully the double album isn’t extremely bloated (13 songs at a total running time of 85 minutes) and each side is enough to allow you to digestReflektor as a whole rather than the sum of its parts. Starting off with the fiery fun title track, things then take an interesting turn to such as the nice groove on “We Exist,” and you can feel the dancehall vibes on “Flashbulb Eyes.” Matter of fact, the only thing that sounds even remotely close to vintage Arcade Fire you’d expect is reflected in “Normal Person.” The second disc is a bit more adventurous and plays with the sounds in a much more experimental fashion, such as the slow cooker “Here Comes The Night Time II,” or the almost Bowie meets The Clash take on “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus).” It’s really hard to deny the grooves and the really good structures and ideas presented on Reflektor, and shows if anything, that Arcade Fire can still make great songs come to life.
My feelings about the title track that opens Reflektor pretty much sum up my feelings about the records as a whole. It is a great song, mixing the theatrical pop of Bowie with some Talking Heads-esqe grooves, but it simply is too much after multiple breakdowns and buildups. The 80+ minute album mirrors the song in that I can’t really say anything bad about it other than my ability to stay excited about something expired before the song (& album) had concluded, which generally isn’t a good thing. Some movies that are 3 hours should really be 2 hours. Most pop albums should be <60 minutes. “Afterlife” might be the best song they have ever written, and “Normal Person,” “We Exist” and “Joan of Arc” are all brilliant, dynamic tracks, but 80+ MINUTES of high density orchestrated pop music! As is the case with their “dress formal for our shows” bit, Reflekor gives me a sneaking suspicion the band are quickly becoming the U2 of my generation. They aren’t even close to “Beautiful Day” type drudgery yet, but the hype and over indulgence of this record leave me worried that we may be headed in the a similar “biggest band in the world” direction. All that being said, Reflektor is easily my favorite Arcade Fire record since their seminal debut LP, and when it hits it is one of the most engaging and exciting major label LPs I have heard this year. In an area where we can mass consume one song from each album, Arcade Fire attempted to draw us in with a massive project that defies the instant gratification and short attention span of a Pandora radio world. For a good chunk of this record, they came pretty damn close, but in the end their grandiose attempt felt like it was teetering on the edge of collapsing under its own weight.