Breaking the Mirror
How does any artist follow a Grammy-winning album? Let alone a band like Arcade Fire who, despite a large and loyal fanbase, had the masses scratching their heads when The Suburbs took home the big prize in 2011? Hopefully, those masses ran out and purchased the masterwork of melody and texture and were awakened to the music as art that Win Butler & Co. created, not only with The Suburbs, but on all three of their releases. New fans, now strapped securely on the bandwagon, were no doubt braced for brilliance following the announcement that the Montreal band’s next album was on its way. However, Reflektor is not a continuation of the evolution of musical genius. Rather, it validates detractors’ assertions that Arcade Fire has a tendency towards overindulgence disguised as creative expression.
We begin with the title track, a seven-and-a-half minute new wave dance number that sets the tone for the album. It is the catchiest and most tasteful tune on Reflektor, which means that if you don’t like this song, you won’t like anything else on here. “We Exist” is nearly as high-quality as the first song, offering the listener hope that a real gem is buried within. Then “Flashbulb Eyes” comes along and reveals Reflektor‘s true nature– uninspired lyrics obscured by messily complex compositions.
The ’80s inspired MTV feel doesn’t disappear. “Normal Person” is like a Talking Heads filler (though it does have a cool electric violin part in the chorus). “You Already Know” shuffles, Adam Ant-style. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” shows promise, but the overuse of percussion distracts from any subtlety Butler may hope to convey. “Porno” is one of the few songs that works, where the synths and extra layers make sense by supporting a simple melody, and the band achieves their purpose without alienating the listener. The smooth and insightful “Afterlife” also helps Reflektor end on a high note (you can just skip the 11-plus minute “Supersymmetry” and your life will be the same as it is now).
To be fair, past Arcade Fire albums included their share of bigness-for-the-sake-of-bigness, but it was often interspersed with enough beauty and musical poetry that it could be forgiven. But with Reflektor, the extraneous noise is in the front seat, and there is no “We Used to Wait” or “Intervention” or “Wake Up” to reel the listener in when things go awry. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy produced this 75-minute ode to the recent past, but one hopes that Arcade Fire will rediscover their luster on their next recording.