Review: Arcade Fire - Reflektor
2006's Neon Bible was a misfire to some, but it contains two of Arcade Fire’s best tracks so far in ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Keep the Car Running.’ 2010 saw mainstream acceptance of the Canadian weirdos (I have nothing to back this up with other than some unfortunate promo photos) with the release of their third album The Suburbs. I’m still not quite sure about The Suburbs. It has a grown-up head on its overburdened shoulders and could do with a lighter touch here or there.
Then this year Arcade Fire announced that their fourth album would be produced by James Murphy, of the sorely missed LCD Soundsystem. I proceeded to experience the kind of sweaty nervous excitement that is the sole preserve of an English thirty year-old man in deific love with a 43 year-old overweight man from New York who he's never met before and probably never will thanks to this.
The first product of this union, which is essentially hipster-catnip, was the single ‘Reflektor’ released last month.
Let’s talk about the single ‘Reflektor’ for a while...
‘Reflektor’ is a mixture of subtle funk, louche disco rhythms, something blippy-bloppy in the background that I really fucking love and co-vocalist Régine Chassagne’s almost sickly sweet vocals giving way under the weight of a crashing chorus that holds just enough back to leave you demanding more. It’s 7m34s long but that’s not long enough, as far as I’m concerned this could carry on forever. I breathlessly love ‘Reflektor’ in a way that clouds my critical judgement. In fact there’s a whole album left to review when I eventually get past this opening track. All two discs and 75 minutes of it.
So Reflektor the album then...
James Murphy’s subtle dash of funk gives tracks like ‘We Exist’ and ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ a sexy pulse that, although very new to Arcade Fire, wears them surprisingly well. It helps reign in their more operatic leanings, and provides them with a sturdy base to noodle around. ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ is perhaps the most playful Arcade Fire have ever sounded. Win Butler’s vocals are now much lower in the mix too, which helps to curb some of that Arcade Fire grandiosity.
‘Flashbulb Eyes’ reflects Arcade Fire's recent Jamaican influence at its most obvious, but its more Peaking Lights style futuristic dub, then anything too heavy-handed. I’m looking in your general direction Snoop Dogg. Assuming that is you through the cloud of smoke.
“Do you like rock and roll music? Because I don’t know if I do.” ‘Normal Person’ begins with this note of barely concealed shame, but soon turns into a storming rejection of machismo, MOR and homogeny; everything that rock and roll has become. ‘Joan of Arc’ is a ridiculously dramatic track that takes in a bit of David Bowie glam, eighties power-pop chorus and a beautifully maudlin coda.
Reflektor has its low points though, and most of them appear in the second half. ‘You Already Know’ has the jarring presence of a Jonathan Ross cameo to overcome before you can even attempt to enjoy this surprisingly bog-standard piece of rock and roll, that comes as a hypocritical counterpoint to the previous track, 'Normal Person'.
‘Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)’ sounds too much like a James Murphy exploration of Vangelis style synths than anything particularly collaborative. Similarly ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ sounds the most similar to LCD Soundsystem, with chanted, repetitive vocals and electronic sounds adding as much to the melody as the traditional instruments. There's even technically a proper dance track here in 'Afterlife'.
As much as I assumed I would enjoy an Arcade Fire approximation of LCD Soundsystem, it turns out I'm wrong. When the band pushes into this more blatant LCD-esque place they sound as derivative and meandering as a ten year old guitar band pretending to be LCD Soundsystem.
This is only for a few tracks though; thankfully the rest of Reflektor is a dark slice of disco in keeping with their first album 'Funeral' and the best work of Murphy: half in love with the dancefloor and half in love with death.