Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Merge Records)
LP / CD / DL
Have Arcade Fire finally produced the elusive, ‘universally heralded as a “classic'” album they’ve been striving for since they burst onto the music scene? Read on to find out…
Arcade Fire are a band that, over the years, have developed a massive fan base due to their anthemic songs and their outstanding live shows. Unfortunately, if you look back carefully over their recorded output you will notice that they’ve yet to make a complete ‘classic’ album (all-killer-no-filler). From Funeral through to last album The Suburbs, their albums all contain moments of magic, but also moments of mediocrity.
With this, their fourth album, there is a general sense that this album really does need to be their ‘classic’ or they may stop being a band that the casual listener will pay attention to.
With the appointment of James Murphy as producer, the release of the title track as a first single, and the fact that Reflektor is a double album, you get the sense that Arcade Fire really do feel that now is the time to really lay a marker down and produce something different from their previous works and in taking this approach they have released their most layered and thoughtful album yet.
Reflektor is a double album in the classic sense. It is structured perfectly with the last track on disc one, Joan Of Arc, being a poppy toe-tapper before side two starts us off gently with Here Comes The Night II and ends with the pure ambient outro of Super Symmetry which fades away leaving just a trace of what has gone before. Apart from the first single, there are not really any classic Arcade Fire anthems in the vein of No Cars Go or Ready To Start (their finest song to date) which again gives the listener a sense that this is a complete listening experience and shouldn’t just be skipped through. In fact, if you don’t give the album full attention you would probably feel disappointed and not give the album the time it needs to grow on you and for it to reveal its true magic.
One of the only similarities with the band’s output to date is the lyrical themes. Love, loss and yearning are all present, and whereas in the past the band have dealt with religion, this time they have turned their attention to Greek mythology.
A brace of songs, Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus) use the famous stories about this doomed couple as a way of explaining the power of music to heal and of the importance of faith and trust within a relationship. In fact, a lot of the lyrics on this album could be seen as letters between Win and Régine. The couple seems to be taking stock of their life together to date (“we met when I was 19” “if we scream and shout till we work it out”) and how to move forwards.
The inspired choice of Murphy as a producer pays off not just on the more upbeat numbers, but on the album as a whole. His mix of futurism and homage add a lovely silver sheen to the album, bringing to mind classic eighties staples like New Order, The Smiths, Talking Heads and Bowie. Ah yes, the Dame himself. Bowie’s DNA is all over this album, from the Station To Station feel of Normal Person (a highlight), to the sludgy synth of Porno, the admiration for our greatest innovator is evident. This obvious nod to the music of Bowie can seem quite derivative on first listen, but as you dig deeper you notice that although the sounds are familiar, the music is brand new, and the only REAL tribute the band are paying is in having the nerve to do exactly what they want without fear of losing some of their fan base and by looking at the album as a complete artistic statement where not a second is to be wasted.
With Reflektor, Arcade Fire have successfully pulled off what only a few other bands have succeeded in doing (Radiohead, The Cure etc) by releasing a brave album with a bold change of direction. Reflektor is not a record made for background noise or for choosing some tracks for a play list. It seeps into your psyche and lingers then nagging away until you listen again and again. The band may loose a few fans with this release, but by approaching this album like they have, they have given themselves a license to keep experimenting with future releases and in doing so extending their career extensively and potentially becoming an iconic band.
There’s nothing putting this fire out just yet.