The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire are a band that have universally been lauded by critics and hipsters alike, but the Montreal arena rock band have left the other two LxL contributors a bit cold, and while I myself would call myself a fan, I don’t bow at the knee of Win Butler and company like many music fans. I had particular intrigue with their latest album, Reflektor, though considering it being produced by LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy in his first big project after LCD Soundsystem broke up. Reflektor contains some of the magnetic dance hooks that Murphy once brought to LCD Soundsystem, mixed in with big, guitar-driven Arcade Fire sound to make a good album that just falls a bit short of anything special, leaving me a bit cold yet again.
Reflektor opens up with the nearly 8-minute hypnotic title track, which really comes into its own in the last quarter of the song thanks to a horn crescendo and David Bowie gracing the track with his howling vocals. “Here Comes The Night Time” and “Normal Person” are two of the most dynamic tracks on Reflektor, despite some simple philosophical lyrics (you just get the idea that Winn Butler thinks he is a lot smarter than he actually is). “Here Comes The Night Time” is a delightful crawl into a seedy salsa underworld, filled with gloomy vocals, lively piano, and a huge conga finish. “Normal Person” soars with its eagle of a guitar riff even if the lyrics leave you feeling a little flat. “Joan of Arc” has a playful shoot-from-the-hip feel to it that much of the rest of the over-calculated album lacks and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” big cathartic chorus is as good as the album gets. Not to mention “Afterlife”, which might be the best song of them all, thanks to its airy synth build and big singalong chorus, which is where they really should have ended the album.
There are moments throughout Reflektor that are memorable and dynamic, but as a whole, the album feels overbearing and oppressive, at 80 minutes with songs that leave you feeling a bit cold. Songs like the slowed “Here Comes the Night Time II”, “Porno”, and “Supersymmetry” lack any special moments and are just plain boring. So while Reflektor has some fabulous moments, it doesn’t quite live up to the band’s best work.
As Wes has already pointed out, I am not exactly a champion for Arcade Fire. To put it bluntly, I think they are about as interesting as a dried up turd. We all know by now that there are just not many ways can you polish up a turd. Pulling in names like James Murphy and David Bowie while flashing your bright and shiny Grammy (another fecal-related music term) is certainly a valiant attempt to do so, but as with most of their work Reflektor remains as dull and boring as Arcade Fire have ever been. Just to be clear, when I say dull and boring I mean mind-numbingly boring. Listening to this album is about as interesting as watching a high school stage performance of 12 Angry Men from behind a three foot wall of sound-proof glass. Out of their entire catalog, I find myself hard pressed to enjoy much of anything other than a handful of tracks: two to three of which I find on this album. I say two to three because I believe “Here Comes the Night” to be the best and worst song on the album, which leaves me torn on exactly where to place it. I actually believe this song to be a perfect example of my feelings toward this album, as well as the band as a whole. Allow me to explain.
This song has everything I want in a song. It starts with a crazy, loosely structured meltdown and then pulls itself into dub/salsa dance tune, with more timing changes, a poppy piano hook, distorted vocals, great build ups and decent lyrics. Give the outline of this song to an actually great band, say TV On The Radio, and you could be talking song of the year. Instead Arcade Fire manage to find some way to turn it into an awkwardly slow, overly simplified, under-produced (which how in hell… with James Murphy on your production credits… is that the case?), heart breaker of a track. I want to love this song so badly. I want this song to gut punch me in my soul. I want to dance and scream the lyrics to this song at the top of my lungs, but instead I get bored. I find myself lost in my own head as to what this song COULD be instead of what it actually is. Which is exactly how I feel about Arcade Fire themselves.
So although that first paragraph comes off a little harsh (and I apologize that it isn’t easier for me to discard my personal bias so much) it is still, as always, difficult for me to handle how over-praised this band/album is when I see so much more potential in what they/it could be. “Normal Person” and “Afterlife” are two tracks on the album in which I can really get behind. As for my thoughts for the remaining ten tracks, only two of which aren’t edging the six minute or more mark … blah. As a side note, it also bothers me that they play off this change in new sound as tribute to Win’s new found love for Haitian music after tripping with Régine to her motherland. Indie dance/pop/dub/disco whatever is the biggest trend in music right now. Acting like your inspiration lays anywhere but what is trending is pure farce.
I am having more and more trouble relating to these albums that are 80+ minutes. Kind of like Leonard Maltin thinks any movie over ninety minutes is overlong, I am feeling like any album over 50-60 minutes could trim a lot of the fat. And when The Arcade Fire’s newest album is the album in question, there are even stronger feelings for a more self-aware, leaner product.
The Arcade Fire have never been a band I have cared about all that much one way or the other. They release albums I respect and file away more than I play to death out of unabashed admiration. But they do also release a song here and there, like “Wake Up” off of Funeral, that I would place near the top of a list for best songs of the past decade.
Reflektor is just more of the same for me. There are a lot of good ideas that could have been much better executed. “Joan of Arc” is a very solid track that suffers from a sense of urgency Win Butler can’t deliver on vocally (it also shares its title with my favorite Leonard Cohen track). On much of the rest of the album, particularly “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”, there are just too many ideas going on in the same track. I think The Arcade Fire fancies themselves masters of changing pace and reinventing a song mid-track. They have had some success with that in the past, and James Murphy’s name attached to this particular album would make one hope for success in this area, but not everything translates.
All in all, this is a record I would urge you to explore if you have the time and energy. There are certainly more than enough strong points to merit poking around, and picking several tracks to hold onto. Just don’t expect the rock opus most of other media outlets seem to think Reflektor to be.
Aggregate Score: 6/11
Can’t Miss: “Afterlife”, “Reflektor”, “Joan of Arc”
Can’t Hit: “Here Comes the Night Time II”, “Porno”, “Supersymmetry”