By Rock Genius Editor, Jeff Heller
1. Dropped the anthems to drop the beat (Wrath)
Bongos don't scare me. Arcade Fire have made me think and have encouraged me to get off my ass and change, with weirder or lesser instruments. Don't blame the instrument, blame the song. The pseudo-climbing strings a la "I Am the Walrus" signal a larger concept to loom, but then "We Exist" bluntly shatters the building intensity. "Here Comes the Night Time" has an incredibly hectic opener, perfectly soundtracking a chase scene and heightening the danger of the environment before suddenly dropping to a sludgy dub beat. It's awkward, unprovoked and disorienting. Even better, it randomly ramps up again at the end, then back down and suddenly stops. It's not like I'm trying to make it seem like a joke, but on paper it seems ridiculous, so why did it seem like a good idea in the studio? This may be AF trying to shatter their image, but after three albums of consistent intensity and their love of playing their songs to audiences, why change?
2. Extended jamming over intriguing concepts (Gluttony)
Like a cruel joke some of the most mediocre and lacking moments of Reflektor don't seem to end. Most of the songs run over five minutes, and I don't mention that to discourage exploration of themes, but the only exploring I experienced through moments like the end of "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" or "Supersymmetry" involved my fingernails and surrounding wallpaper; and in some cases, just when it gets to a moment where you're more than tired of a particular tangent they decide to cut the song off. As if even in the editing chair everyone had had enough and cut it short. This makes songs like "Normal Person" a highlight of Reflektor because the raw rock of this new sound is refreshing, focused and, most importantly, doesn't outstay its welcome.
3. Having a love affair with James Murphy (Lust)
I'm not saying that this should never have happened, or that AF is too good for JM, or vice versa. Both artists deserve the credit they earned for creating endearing music on their own. LCD Soundsystem's catalog can pack as much of a punch as Arcade Fire's and both acts have shared a bill before so this cooperative pact isn't unwarranted. However, when faced with an internal emotional dilemma James's instinct leads him to get up and dance without a care while Arcade Fire makes you care about something and then get up to take action. What Reflektor ends up trying to do is make us get up and dance, but in the confusion of attitudes we end up writhing like Seinfeld's Elaine because we're unsure of whether we should be caring or not. Final note on this topic: Don't make art with your friends, make art with your enemies because it's too easy to please your friends.
4. Genre a la carte (Envy)
When you hear other people talk about this album they may mention Talking Heads (specifically Remain in Light), David Bowie, Gary Glitter and Prince amongst other artists that these songs reference. Taking on different styles should never be frowned upon -- The Clash's London Calling covered every genre it could, as well. The album was extremely successful and is still considered an all-time classic because The Clash had the balls to put their entire weight into it. Arcade Fire don't have that same confidence in these songs. They want to be able to jump from 80s pop to dancehall dub to traditional AF drama without the effort of arranging and thematically tying the songs together. There are repeating lyrics from song to song like any good concept album but the concept is unclear and it feels more like an unfinished thought. The flow of Reflektor suffers as a result.
5. Is there a story or not? (Sloth)
Orpheus and Eurydice are boldly presented on the cover, two songs are devoted to their story (in theme only), and Reflektor is something of an open-ended term which could mean anything, so why does "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" lack tangible emotion? How does the intro of "You Already Know" featuring audio from Johnathan Ross's TV show where he introduces the band -- who, by the way, were using the pseudonym "The Reflektors" in most of the marketing but are not mentioned once on the actual album -- relate to the story? While themes of technology's duality of connecting and alienating us are common in the lyrics, do they really relate to the ancient Greek myth? I'm not convinced.
6. The double album (Greed)
The album is 75 minutes long; that's one minute longer than a traditional CD; I'm going to go out on a limb (a really long, thin, shaky limb) with a theory. This was done on purpose because in our digital world CDs have no need for existence anymore. One of the last physical methods we've had for listening to music is almost dead. Almost all the latest computers from Apple don't have disc drives, so making a double album could be the last great hurrah of physical media. If that's the case, though, then all they're doing is holding up a middle finger to CD purchasers who might have to pay a premium for an extra disc. This might not happen once Target carries it, but this concern could have easily been avoided.
7. They didn't listen to themselves (Pride)
Actually what upsets me about this point is the possibility that they did. But that's not my entire opinion on this album. No single part of this review sums all of it up. Listen to "Reflektor," "Normal Person," "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)," "Joan of Arc," and "Afterlife" mixed in with other AF tracks and you might find, as I did, that they blend very well with the random bits of the rest of the catalog. There are great moments all over the place; even "Supersymmetry's" harkening of Kraftwerk is sublime before it becomes obsessive. And when it does become obsessive, as in the six extra minutes at the end for quiet digital hums, it solidifies the point that no one checked their ambition. So I might conclude that mixing in Reflektor's seven sins with some solid tracks and mediocre playability makes my overall opinion "decent." So what's wrong with decent? Well, this is Arcade Fire, no longer a Montreal-based indie outfit on indie label Merge Records. No longer ignored by the industry, but now garnering the industry's highest honor: a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011 for The Suburbs. When the catalog includes three stellar releases and then one slight disappointment like this, you start to worry if anyone's going to challenge them to listen to themselves again due to their new stature as "the next U2." We'll see in another three years.
Read the annotated lyrics on Rock Genius:
Arcade Fire - Reflektor Lyrics
Arcade Fire - We Exist Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Flashbulb Eyes Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Here Comes The Night Time Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Normal Person Lyrics
Arcade Fire - You Already Know Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Joan Of Arc Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Here Comes The Night Time II Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) Lyrics
Arcade Fire - It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus) Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Porno Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Afterlife Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Supersymmetry Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Reflektor Album Art Lyrics
Arcade Fire - Reflektor Credits Lyrics