Over the last decade, Montreal Indie-rock outfit Arcade Fire has continued to scale higher and higher into the indie music pantheon of greatness, releasing consistently terrific releases like Neon Bible and their debut Funeral, an album so great that it will most likely haunt the band for the rest of their career.
Arcade Fire will be releasing albums in 2040, and people will still be saying “Well, it’s not Funeral.”
Yes, alas the band’s newest album Reflektor is in fact not Funeral. It is an ambitious, but slightly muddled and confused double album, showing the band’s musical direction in a state of puberty. For this album, Arcade Fire has evolved their sound into something more dynamic than previous albums, but they have also compromised what made their first three albums so great. That theatrical spark. The watched pot is not boiling as much anymore. Arcade Fire has left the neighborhood, and it’s hard to know where they are going here. Most likely to a discotheque.
Long before Reflektor’s release, Arcade Fire sold the church studio where they recorded their two previous albums. Though the decision was due merely to roof damage, it now seems like a prophetic omen for the band’s musical direction on this album. There isn’t a single organ here, barely an orchestra at all for that matter and lead vocalist Win Butler’s passionate sermonizing seems oddly sedated.
Luckily, in place of hurdy-gurdys and harpsichords we have James Murphy, famed spearhead of LCD Soundsystem and the album’s lead producer. Murphy is known for creating some of the most ambitious and passionate dance music of the 2000s, and his love for dynamic disco rhythms reverberates throughout the entirety of Reflektor.
And nowhere is this more obvious than on the album’s ambitious opening track “Reflektor.” It is a dizzying and dynamic dance track full of syncopated drums and reverb that contrasts the autumnal, hyper nostalgic warmth of The Suburbs.
The second track “We Exist,” features a cool bass line and some of Butler’s most telling lyrics about our modern age: “They’re walking around/Head full of sound/Acting like we don’t exist/ they walk in the room/looking right through you/like you don’t exist.” Butler has always been a voice for the frustrated and alienated youth. He is about as David Bowie in that respect as anyone gets. Both have a hunger for conceptual themes.
From there the album descends into underwhelming territory. “Here Comes the Night Time,” has a cloying Caribbean vibe, while “Normal Person” shows Butler descending into teen diary territory at times: “I’m so confused, am I a normal person? You know I can’t tell if I’m a normal person.”
The album is a total of 72 minutes, and while tracks like “Porno” have a shimmering personality and bounce, there isn’t much firepower in this album’s arsenal. None of the songs here are terrible, bad even, but tracks like “Joan of Arc” lack charisma, something the band has never lacked before.
There appears to be a passion hiding beneath Reflektor’s surface, especially in tracks like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” and maybe with further listens it will become more visible for this listener. For now, however, there are just too many underwhelming tracks.
Reflektor shows Arcade Fire in an awkward transition. And what exactly they are transitioning to on this album remains unclear. Maybe they are becoming a more groove-oriented band, or reggae, or poppy or electronic? Who knows. It’s as if the whole band is standing under a large musical post sign with dozens of arrows pointing in different directions. No one can stick with just one, and so they decide to take all of them. The result here is not terrible, in spots the album is even great, but then again “it’s not Funeral.”
Top Tracks: “Reflektor,” “We Exist,” “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “After Life”