The Arcade Fire

Merge, 2013

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Rock history is full of bands that had a commercial and artistic triumph and felt like they could whatever they wanted on their next album. Usually, this ends up becoming a double album. I bring the White Album and Tusk as the first two exhibits.

In that grand tradition, Arcade Fire follows up the successful The Suburbs with the superb double disc Reflektor. Classifying this is a chore because it draws equally on glam, alternative, prog, indie and arena rock, crossing the line into prog for several reasons: it’s sort of a concept album based on the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, the songs average about six minutes long, and it does not need to be as long as it is.

The second disc is a little more experimental and more focused on the concept, while the first is simply a monolithic sprawl of a rock album. Oh, and David Bowie stops by for a cameo on the title track…talk about high-wattage guest stars.

Here’s the rub: This is damn good music, an easy candidate for best album of the year, even though (not that this matters) it won’t win any Grammys this time. The first two tracks are utterly wonderful, both with intense neo-disco beats and fantastic harmonies from Butler and wife Regina Chassagne. Bowie adds backup to “Reflektor” about halfway through (he is a big fan of the band), while “We Exist” is an empowerment anthem with a loping, slyly infectious bassline. The disc – especially those first two cuts – are inspired by Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and U2’s ‘90s Europop period, especially 1997’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Pop.

“Flashbulb Eyes” is a brief fuzzy rocker, “Normal Person” starts slow but turns into an upfront alt-rocker of the highest order and “You Already Know” is jaunty and irresistible, forcing the listener to dance and completely sucking them in with that bassline. Even better is “Joan Of Arc,” which starts as a punk rocker but abruptly moves into a decadent glam-rock tune with – surprise! – another wonderful bass riff that anchors the song. This could be the only rock record of 2013 where we remember the bass riffs more than the guitars.

The second disc stars with a druggy reprise of “Here Comes The Night” before moving into “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” both of which plod along with half-assed dance beats and little in the way of musical resolution. “Porno” is only slightly better, but “Afterlife” is good in its recalling of the main beat to “Reflektor” and Butler’s best Bowie impression to date. “Supersymmetry” is the comedown after the party, the afterglow of the Greek love affair, with some lovely singing by Butler and Chassagne and a quietly insistent guitar line, but it is followed by a very long outro with some pointless noodling. The hidden track is simply 10 minutes of the album songs being played backward and offers absolutely nothing.

So, as with all double albums, there is some definite editing that could have been done to fit this on a single disc, or at least some trimming to make it a lean, legendary album even if part of the appeal is the decadent sprawl and overly long songs. No matter. Reflektor is Arcade Fire’s best album to date and one of the best albums of the year. It also carries this branch of the band’s sound to its logical conclusion, making it very unlikely their next album will be anything like this one.

Rating: A-

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