Oct 30, 2013 Web Exclusive
If we can agree on one thing about Arcade Fire's latest, the record's rollout has been nothing short of bizarre, between formalwear-required preview performances, numerous teaser snippets, and the gonzo, celebrity-packed television special. Now, we can finally peel back the mirrorball-like wrapping and find out if Reflektor lives up to its mystique.
The record begins with one of the anthemic singles we've come to expect from the band. "Reflektor" is a seven-and-a-half minute coaster ride, building to multiple crescendos over racing dance beats, where James Murphy's touch as co-producer really shines. At its zenith, the track overflows with more ideas than many bands can muster on a whole album; Colin Stetson's sax arrangement gives it a retro vibe, and sample manipulation by turntablist Kid Koala imbues it with Eno-like flourishes which recall Bowie's Berlin period (and yes, that's the thin white duke giving an uncredited turn on backing vocals). The breathless pace continues into "We Exist," which sports a groovy, rolling bass line and contagiously singable vocals. The remainder of the first disc hardly lives up to its opening tracks. The dubby "Flashbulb Eyes" clashes with its surrounding songs; "Normal Person" and "You Already Know" are framed as a goofy, fake performance suite with crowd noise and an emcee introduction. These songs—along with "Joan of Arc," with its punkish opening blast—work better on their own, but throw Reflektor's momentum off-kilter slotted in where they are.
There's a break towards the midpoint, where Arcade Fire asks listeners to swap discs. Reflektor is a double album for conceptual purposes; its 75 minutes would fit on one compact disc, but each half strikes a different tone. "Here Comes the Night Time II" sets it up with a lower-key prelude. "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" is laid back, orchestral pop in classic form; Owen Pallett's orchestral arrangements give it grandeur. Like its companion, Disc Two falls off approaching its tail end. "Porno" is a synthy experiment not worth its six whole minutes. "Afterlife" would have fit in better alongside its danceable brethren on Disc One; placed an hour into the album, it's exhausting. Much of 11-minute closer "Supersymmetry" is intentional padding.
As one record listened through end-to-end, Reflektor feels like an unnecessary sprawl. It's wildly uneven, and contains more flat-out bellyflops than any of the band's previous works; it's also endlessly fascinating. Far from perfect, it's worthy of heavy exploration. (www.arcadefire.com)
Author rating: 6.5/10
Average reader rating: 8/10