Arcade Fire’s new album, Reflektor, hit the Internet today in the form of a streaming YouTube video. Among first release, a few of my friends immediately with talking about it being boring as if it were the National. After a listen, I know they’re wrong. Mostly.
Following up a massive success in both the critical and commercial sectors is an incredibly hard thing to do. One need look no further than Kanye West’s Yeezus. While I think it’s a fantastic album with particularly great songs, including “Blood on the Leaves“, it was divisive at best. Instead of putting out an album with a few radio-friendly hits, he made a statement. Granted, the statement was a bit muddled and opaque. Still, Ye used his skills to make something incredibly important in his discography’s trajectory.
Montreal’s multi-piece Arcade Fire have an album to live up to as well. Their last album, The Suburbs, was a massive hit which resulted in a Best Album Grammy Award. I was as shocked as you were, I didn’t know they handed Grammys out to good artists, either. After a few years off, they announced their return with a single and album named Reflketor. Unlike Kanye West, no one expects Arcade Fire to do some ridiculously crazy shit on record. A well-thought out, solid independent rock record? Sure.
“Reflektor”, the single, serves as introduction to the record. Aided with some production help from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, it has more of a dance-driven feel. The up-tempo jam suffers a bit from the lyrics. The bilingual exploration doesn’t bother me so much as the errant refrain of “just a reflektor”. I get it, Win, it was just a reflektor. Much of the “first disc” of the album is a spin through tried-and-true Arcade Fire songcraft.
Slightly mid-tempo beats, choir style bridges and choruses, with Win Butler shouting a lyric to connect it all. Occasionally, electronic flourishes will add some heft to a song. “We Exist”, the second track on the album, has a treading bass line that guides the entirety of the song. When you hear this opening, you’re reminded of what makes Arcade Fire an enjoyable band. A lot of you may disagree, which is fine.
“Here Comes the Night Time” brings a pop to the album by adding some Caribbean elements. It may be one of my favorite tracks on the album, and probably best sums up the whole of the album. Butler pontificates about God and records, asking “If there’s no music up in heaven/Then what’s it for?” In one lyric, he’s captured an endearing fear of the afterlife (a running theme) by confronting it with the aid of music. “Night Time” has a nice buildup before an extremely enjoyable rhythmic breakdown complete with choir vocals. Its succeeding track may be the most talked about, and best on Reflektor.
“Normal Person” had its premiere on an Arcade Fire special. Throughout the song, which sounds more like a Suburbs track, the question is asked “What is a normal person?” You can already see it being posted on teen hipsters’ Twitter bios and adoring their Facebook statuses. God dammit, nothing as cruel as a normal person! Personal yelling aside, the song offers an obvious identification for the personal listener. No one knows what actually constitutes normal, and “if that’s normal now, I don’t want to know” is definitely a thought that crosses most minds. “Normal Person” is the most straightforward rock song on the album and yes, it is the best. I’m not singling out for that. It’s simply the best in music, length, and lyrics on the record.
Here Comes the Night Special
Reflektor’s second half is not as compelling as its first. Ultimately, this makes the album more of a letdown than i would have expected. Truthfully, I enjoy the record. Unlike The Suburbs, it has less replay value. “Disc two” starts with a slower reprise of “Here Comes the Night Time” which just feels like a drag. Bright spots on the second half are few and far between. “Porno”‘s music with a staccato beat, is compelling. Outside of that, you’re left with “Afterlife”. Again, Win confronts God and what comes after. Perhaps getting older has made Butler more introspective, especially about death.
With this record, Arcade Fire haven’t made anything revolutionary or ground-breaking. It’s not the worst thing to happen. Instead, they made a respectable follow-up to a classic record. Reflektor‘s successes are largely found in its first half. The Caribbean/dance record theme is improved upon, the songs are tight and enjoyable, and there are instantly memorable. The second half of the record drags on a bit too much, fails to make an impact, and offers little for the listener to take home. Reflektor isn’t boring–as long as you skip a few tracks on the second half of the disc.
Listen to Reflektor in full from the band’s YouTube page.