Arcade Fire – 'Reflektor' album review

Strange, sad and experimental, this sprawling creation is an awesome advance but not quite a timeless classic



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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

‘Do you like rock ’n’ roll music? Coz I don’t know if I do…’ croons Arcade Fire’s Win Butler like an anti-Elvis on the opening bars of ‘Normal Person’. But don’t let his words mislead you: ‘Kid A’ this aint. While ‘Reflektor’ is the Montreal outfit’s furthest venture onto the dancefloor, it remains a sprawling, confused myriad of exploration, with the band sounding possessed by the haunting qualities of dance music, rather than adopting the genre as their own – from the voodoo disco of the album’s title track to the New Order nuances of ‘It’s Never Over’.

The spectre of making a seminal album is upon them, however. Since they slashed through the flabby-bellied lad rock of the noughties with 2004’s morbidly theatrical ‘Funeral’, Arcade Fire have been redefining the limits of a guitar band. But almost ten years on, with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as producer, the group are ready to dip their toes into a more sonically diverse soundscape.

Split into two discs to make room for the full 70-minute odyssey, ‘Reflektor’ is full of swerving trajectories – so much so that it occasionally feels like channel-hopping (particularly when a clip of Jonathan Ross introducing the band on stage cuts through the intro of ‘You Already Know’). ‘We Exist’ borrows its bassline from Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, while ‘Flash Bulb Eyes’ experiments with chilling dub reverberations. The album also features an experimental rhythm section: two Haitian percussionists who add an eerie quality which pushes Arcade Fire into the unknown, their drums echoing like recollections from a past life. Overall it sounds complicated and clever – but then that’s nothing new.

If 2010’s ‘The Suburbs’ captured lyrically the emotions of coming back home, ‘Reflektor’ looks more expansively into our future, and there’s an omen-like quality to Butler’s vocals. He performs from the perspective of both the parent and the child on many tracks (he and fellow singer Régine Chassagne became parents this year): ‘It seems like a big deal now, but you will get over, when you get older,’ he reassures on ‘It’s Never Over’, before aping an anxious adolescent on ‘Porno’ – ‘It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me!’ Again, this is nothing new: ‘Children, wake up, before they turn the summer into dust,’ Win sang rapturously on ‘Funeral’. Only this time there’s a melancholy in his voice, something that tells us that we’re all already doomed.

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