For every great double album, there’s an equally great standard album that was never made. A slicker, more concentrated release might have earned Arcade Fire more immediate fawning; but, with their apparent vision and scope, why not go for something a little more audacious?
And that’s Reflektor. There’s too much to love all at once, but it rewards repeat listens. There’s a fruitful synthesis of Arcade Fire’s listenable rock sensibility with a bohemian edge inspired by Haitian Rara music. The result is rhythms comparable with Talking Heads in their pomp (we may have James Murphy to thank for that as well); they take what they need from their influences and chisel away until what’s left is something danceable, eccentric and full of heart.
This is music made to move to.
‘Flashbulb Eyes’ is an immediately loveable example of this. Catchy, with its laser quest synths, and, unusually for this album, all too brief. Likewise, the following track ‘Here Comes the Night Time,’ perhaps the centrepiece of the first half, features a surging synth that gives way to a charming piano riff. Such twists are commonplace: this is an album of movements. Having said that, you won’t need to get past the first track to figure out that this is music made to move to.
Arcade Fire are not dumb enough to leave their songs devoid of meaning. Instead, they’re telling their audience to keep up, come back and figure it out.
Arcade Fire, however, do make cerebral as well as danceable tunes. One departure from their previous three albums is the theme. Unlike, say, ‘The Suburbs,’ it isn’t obvious on the first few listens what exactly they’re alluding to part of the time. With the first three albums, much of the arc of the album can be deduced from some the album title. I’m pretty sure that the elaborate namesake – ‘Reflektor’ (apparently referencing the philosopher Kierkegaard) – that starts the album (with searing style by the way) wasn’t included because it sounds funky.
I’m pretty sure that the elaborate namesake – ‘Reflektor’ – that starts the album wasn’t included because it sounds funky.
Arcade Fire are not dumb enough to leave their songs devoid of meaning. Instead, they’re telling their audience to keep up, come back and figure it out. Like Radiohead’s references to Faust in In Rainbows, these references to Kierkegaard’s pessimistic ‘The Present Age’ essays, and the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, are initially perplexing to the those of us who aren’t Philosophy or Classics scholars. However, they deepen the resonance of the album’s intended meaning; which, for Butler, seems to be the ruminations (“…the reflective age.”), distress (“…you and I were born…before the awful sound started coming down.”) and optimism (“We can work it out!”) about the world they live in.
Heavy stuff indeed. It’s a risk: an album by a band with a big enough ego to demand you to return to an seventy-five minute behemoth of an album. Arcade Fire, however, do have the cojones to not bail on their ambitions.
It’s a risk: an album by a band with a big enough ego to demand you to return to an seventy-five minute behemoth of an album.
Elsewhere, it’s easier to fathom. ‘Normal Person’ has an infectious, punky guitar lead to compliment the alienation evoked; a continuation from Win’s frustration at the ‘kids all standing with their arms folded tight’ in the 2010 Month of May single. Likewise, ’Porno’ turns out an intro so gloriously depraved that, if I didn’t know better, I’d think is the love child of Pulp‘s ‘This Is Hardcore’ and Dre‘s ‘Still DRE.’
After the stratospheric popularity of ‘The Suburbs’, Reflektor might be the ‘fans’ album.’ The one where easy criticisms may be made – be it the plus-five minute song lengths or the whimsical Jonathan Ross intro to ‘You Already Know’. For those of us who love to revel in the lengthy songs, and find new things to love even on the umpteenth listen, it’s a masterpiece.
Reflektor deserves essays, not reviews; it also deserves disco speakers and not earphones.
I sincerely hope that it isn’t the fans’ album though. Instead, I hope it becomes the album in which, if you are happy to put in a fraction of the effort Arcade Fire did making it, your efforts will be rewarded over and over. Reflektor deserves essays, not reviews; it also deserves disco speakers and not earphones. It’s unrestrained alright, but it’s worth every second of its seventy-five minutes in a ‘reflective age’ of instant gratification.
Jeremy is listening to The Velvet Underground – Loaded.