Last week, after months of promotion, the latest album from Canadian darlings Arcade Fire, Reflektor, suffered the same fate as many records nowadays—it was leaked. This forced the band to reveal their secretive project for free via YouTube a few days before the original release date.
Early reviews of the record proved divisive, and after listening to the album (the band’s fourth), it’s not hard to see why. Whether you love it or hate it, Reflektor is undoubtedly the band’s least accessible offering yet. There are no obvious singles like “Wake Up” or “We Used to Wait”. Instead, many of the tracks on this 75-minute album blend together and meander amorphously without providing much of a traditional pop hook.
Even Reflektor’s title track, which kicks off the album and is likely the closest thing to a hit the album has, is extended from its radio version on the album. Weaving in and out of a comfortable dance pocket, it becomes almost hypnotic, setting the stage for the rest of the album.
Much has been made of the fact that James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem produced Reflektor. And while it’s true that the album has a distinctly more dance-y sound, this isn’t an entirely different Arcade Fire. “Afterlife”, nestled deep in the album’s second half, would have sounded right at home on the band’s last album, The Suburbs, and it often recalls the joyous beat of that album’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Meanwhile, “Normal Person” offers a searing guitar line that feels just as powerful as anything on the band’s 2004 debut, Funeral.
However, there are more differences than there are similarities between Reflektor and Arcade Fire’s previous work. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Arcade Fire have shown growth with each album, and here they’re clearly going for a more experimental and ethereal sound. It’s a bold move, and the band seems to be revelling in challenging the expectations of a band whose last album won the Album of the Year Grammy.
Unfortunately, Reflektor often comes across more as a contrarian statement album than it does a compelling collection of songs. Amid the noise and electronic fussing, the songwriting just doesn’t feel all that satisfying on a lot of tracks. For example, “Flashbulb Eyes” begins with a few discordant clangs and never really evolves from there. Even the relatively strong track “We Exist”, which offers a catchy beat and a hook-y chorus, doesn’t reach the potential that the build-up promises.
I applaud Arcade Fire’s commitment to innovation, though. It would have been easy to crank out another album of songs filled with handclaps and sing-along choruses simply to appease the fans they picked up with The Suburbs. And in that sense, Reflektor is basically the opposite of resting on one’s laurels. It may lack the immediacy of some of their past work, and it feels bloated and at times indulgent—it’s far from perfect—but it’s difficult to fault a band with so many ideas. Maybe they just shouldn’t have tried to fit them all into one album. MMM