As one of the world’s ‘première rock ensembles’, shall we say, there is no doubt that it must be a burden, churning out Classic Album after Classic Album; however, if there’s one band in recent years that have pulled this delicate weighing up of artistic license with label and audience expectations, it’s Arcade Fire.
Despite the fact that 2007’s Neon Bible lacked the chutzpah of 2004’s Funeral – with the majority of the tracks acting as plodding, directionless filler – it was nonetheless a cut above their contemporaries (2007 being the pinnacle of the mid-noughties rape of indie): tracks such as ‘Intervention’, ‘My Body Is A Cage’ and ‘Keep The Car Running’ were indicative of the fact that Arcade Fire were not just another indie band, but something far more exceptional.
2010’s The Suburbs, a sprawling, ambitious record, furthered still the acclaim for a band who was fast establishing themselves as not only one of the best, but one of the biggest, with headline festival appearances and arena tours fast becoming the norm for a band once deemed by many as ‘a bit weird’. It was on The Suburbs that the groundwork was laid for its successor- as such, Reflekor is a record which takes the band’s ambition and turns it up to eleven. The question is, has Arcade Fire’s ambition gotten to their heads and, if so, where can they go from here?
As has been widely reported, Reflektor bears witness to levels of innovation and song-craft (or, perhaps, lack thereof), that the Montreal act haven’t yet attempted. With ex-LCD Soundsystem frontman and general beat-impresario James Murphy on production duties, the album pulsates, swells and contracts – not reaching the anthemic crescendos of their earlier work, instead toying with the audience: this is a record of slow-burning advance and retreat – building up tension and cutting it off. The results are intriguing, frustrating and downright genius in equal measure.
The titular track caused somewhat of an uproar when it was released with contemporary David Bowie-like abruptness earlier this year. It remains, within the context of the record, an excellent track – bolstered its fantastic production, joint Win and Regine vocal and guest appearance by the aforementioned Bowie. In fact, there are few tracks on the record that don’t have at least something to impress the listener – be it the opening two chords of ‘We Exist’ or the slow, delicate build of ‘Supersymmetry’.
But does that make it good? There is certainly a direction that Arcade Fire have paved for themselves here – a sort of beat-heavy, sub-disco that owes just as much to its production as it does its songwriting. Nonetheless, the songs lack the level of completion or cohesion that they used to enjoy: ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, for example, stops, starts and stutters, dispelling any enjoyment one might have gleaned from it section by section, with each one as incomplete as the last. Elsewhere, ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ has nothing apart from its watered down DFA production, a mess of a track that lacks any sort of direction.
There is also a certain whingey element to Reflektor that does the band little in the way of favours (see the utterly self-obsessed ‘You Already Know’ and ‘Normal Person’), but this can be, as usual, glossed over by the fact that once again Arcade Fire have largely excelled themselves. No matter what pedantry is thrown at Reflektor, it is so easily counteracted by songs and aspects of songs that are not only different, but exceptional. This is not the overly difficult record it has been painted as – it is instead a record which sums up Arcade Fire as a whole: difficult, snotty and snide as they might like to be, they still remain incapable of writing a shit album.
Reflektor was released on 28 October 2013 via Merge Records