Arcade Fire – Reflektor

A tremendously disappointing fourth LP...

Arcade Fire’s penchant for an album-uniting concept is nothing new. 2010’s multi-award-winning ‘The Suburbs’ (Clash review) arrived informed by its makers’ upbringing, at the fringes of bigger-city culture. It proved a suitably sprawling affair, mazey, sometimes unsure of direction but ultimately arriving at its desired destination.

Contrastingly, ‘Reflektor’ finds the Montreal-based ensemble – ostensibly fronted by husband-and-wife pairing Win Butler and Régine Chassagne – ditching the GPS and going their own way. Inevitably, things don’t go smoothly.

‘Reflektor’ is lyrically rote and compositionally rudimentary. It feels unfinished and forced to this ‘completion’ point. Lyrically, it concerns itself with topics of duality by regularly dipping into tired metaphors – contrasts between light and dark, day and night, and so on – replete with awkward excursions into elementary wordplay.

“Is anyone as strange as a normal person?” questions Butler on ‘Normal Person’. Really? ‘You Already Know’ talks of life moving fast, but of the song’s subject moving slow. ‘Porno’ trades in masks, in hiding away from reality: “All your make-up, take it off / I’ve got to find you.” It’s all so utterly uninspired.

But the lyricism is far from the only fault to be found on this fourth studio collection. The opening, Bowie-featuring title-cut (video below), initially bouncing to an appealing LCD Soundsystem-goes-Talking Heads tempo (co-production here comes from James Murphy, beside ‘The Suburbs’ collaborator Markus Dravs), loses its hold on the attention courtesy of a horribly protracted outro.

‘We Exist’, the next number, falls victim to the same problem, and would be twice as effective cut to half the length. So much here is simply too long to hook into the listener – a less-is-more attitude would have worked wonders. (This does not need to be a double-disc affair, beyond the conceptual relevance of such presentation.) 

But just as one questions if this band even knows how to finish a song, standout number ‘Awful Sound’ (knowing irony?) ends dead, snapping from swollen strings to striking silence. It’s a rare high, sincerely lovelorn and possessing potential to become another Arcade Fire anthem.

‘It’s Never Over’ is this band’s best TV On The Radio impression, and ‘Porno’ almost goes G-funk: a pleasant surprise. But undercooked electronics, impotent rhetoric, too-familiar crescendo-ing structures and an overall feeling that this needs further post-production attention render ‘Reflektor’ an entirely substandard album.


Words: Mike Diver

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