Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Record Label: Merge Records
Release Date: October 28, 2013
It’s impossible to measure the impact that Arcade Fire has made on indie and rock music in the 21st century. It’s undeniable that the days of the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and all of their epic peers being the only truly important names in rock and roll have been completely destroyed by the advent of music being spread through the internet and the constant proliferation of genres and sub-genres. Arcade Fire seem to be the only band of our generation that have managed to hold on to the reputation, continuity and fanbase of their forefathers. Musically, it seemed that our generation of counter-culture fans needed a leader - a band or artist who could manage to have mass appeal without ever falling into line with what mass media endorses. A band who were simultaneously emotive enough to connect with a disenfranchised group of listeners and ambiguous enough for those listeners to project their own emotions upon. A band who were anthemic enough to hold an arena and intimate enough to soundtrack the darkest, loneliest moments. That leader was established in 2004 across the ten tracks of Funeral.
Since then, Arcade Fire have gone from strength to strength. Neon Bible showed the gang’s more experimental side and, despite many initial reservations, it remains one of the strongest albums of the noughties. The Suburbs was a masterclass in how to write a concept album and managed to capture every aspect of what it is that’s made indie rock exciting in the last decade. Grammys, award nominations, famous fans and arenas have become part of Arcade Fire’s world since our last encounter with them back in 2009 and so, it would be reasonable to be somewhat apprehensive about how their fourth album might take the world. How could they possibly top three of the best albums of the noughties? How can you get better when it appears you’ve done the best? Well, ladies and gentlemen, meet Arcade Fire 2.0.
Reflektor is a very different beast to anything Arcade Fire have written before. Gone are the stories of youth, the comfortable surroundings of folk tinged indie rock and the default hipster audience. Reflektor is a wonderful mess of influences, genres and those aspects of Arcade Fire that make them, arguably, the most important band in indie music today. From the infectious, seductive groove of the albums’ lead single and title track, it’s obvious that they’ve moved far from the baroque-pop leanings that defined the start of their career. James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem) influence is clearly not restricted to technicalities, with “Reflektor” channelling more than a little of LCD Soundsystem’s distinct sound. Speaking of influences, David Bowie, a man who this album may have been created in homage to, is an incredibly extraneous touch with his single line of guest vocals. Arcade Fire certainly didn’t need a famous voice to sell one of the catchiest songs of the year. Despite its sprawling length and almost 70s funk aspirations, “Reflektor” is one the most legitimate ‘pop’ singles you’ll hear.
Other highlights include the straight up ridiculous “Here Comes The Night Time”. Nothing like anything any indie rock band has ever written, the chilled out vocals, bouncy bass and tropical instrumentation is so much at odds with the intensity Arcade Fire usually deal in, yet somehow, just somehow, it works wonderfully. However, they don’t let the listener rest for long before the blistering “Normal Person” achieves everything “Month Of May” was trying to. Starting off with Butler lazily asking “Do you like rock and roll music? Because I don’t know if I do”, it rips on with a David Bowie meets post-hardcore sound. Screeching, distorted guitars interchange with jazzy piano and Butler’s gritted teeth vocals, all making for a fun condescension of pretty much everyone. Fun is certainly something that isn’t typically associated with Arcade Fire but “Normal Person” displays a band who sound more exhilarated than ever before.
Lyrically speaking, they’re as a vague as ever. However, overly specific lyrics would take away from the enjoyment of deciphering what the hell it is Butler’s talking about. As usual, particular themes run throughout - mirrors, being in a band and occasional elements of self-deprecation all play their part, this time round. Interestingly, a major lyrical theme harkens back to Funeral and the constant observations of death. “Afterlife” is a major example of this. Featuring some of the strongest lyrics on the record (“Afterlife, oh my God, what an awful word/ After all the breath and the dirt and the fires burnt”), Arcade Fire’s ability to deal with similar topics to Funeral, whilst sounding entirely different is a show of just how dynamic they are. Both eras of the band are just as legitimate as one another and there’s a feeling of nostalgia that despite all of their changes, they’re still grappling with the same issues as before.
Overall, Arcade Fire have defined a generation, yet again. Reflektor may hit some fans hard, given the drastic change, however for the majority, this record is not just a relief, but a victory. They’ve re-affirmed their place as one of the best bands in the world and have created an album that is insightful, emotional, fun and just damn amazing. If you’ve somehow never listened to Arcade Fire, you’re lucky to have the strongest back catalogue of the 21st century awaiting you. For everyone else, get ready to fall in love again. Arcade Fire, I salute you.
Record is incredible, although I don't know if anything will top The Suburbs for me. I love the dark/dance-y/Talking Head vibes this album gives off, but I feel it gets a little self-indulgent at brief moments. "Normal Person", though...such a jam.
I don't know how I feel about this yet, but this review definitely helped me refine my lens - maybe on second listen I'll at least feel like I'm grasping the material enough to figure out what I think of it.