Arcade Fire: Reflektor – review


During the late 1950s and 60s there was a vogue for so-called "death discs", singles in which someone's baby had literally gone for good. In the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack, a fatal car crash resolved the action. The term might or might not have inspired Public Image Ltd's 1979 cut Death Disco (about John Lydon's mother's demise from cancer), and in turn, a club night still running in west London, once the preserve of former Creation boss Alan McGee.

Arcade Fire's fourth album is pure death disco: a pulsating, electronic work, heavy of theme but light on its feet. It's fixated on the departed; with ghosts (We Exist, they declare), memory ("You're living in my mind/ It's not the same as being alive," mourns Win Butler on Supersymmetry), heaven (which runs a strict no-beats policy, according to Here Comes the Night Time), and breaking on through to the other side. Indeed, the long coda of the 11+-minute final track may sound like indulgent analogue burbling but it might well be meant to be the sound of the void "entre le royaume des vivants et des morts" (between the kingdom of the living and the dead) that Régine Chassagne sings about 70 minutes previously on the title track of this double album.

If death has become Arcade Fire since their 2004 debut Funeral, mirrors, reflections and screens have been of concern too (cf Black Mirror and its CCTV fear). Reflektor is a big, glitzy mirrorball in which New Order and Michael Jackson's Billie Jean are refracted, but the album also riffs on the vacuity of image-making and the difficulty of grasping undistorted truth, andChassagne's vocals often literally mirror Butler's. (When he declares she is his Joan of Arc, though, Chassagne refutes sainthood: "ce n'est pas moi".)

Arcade Fire's days as a raggle-taggle bunch of air-punching multi-instrumentalists may be behind them. Chic and metropolitan, Reflektor really sounds like it was produced by James Murphy, once of LCD Soundsystem, whose propulsions predominate over the leanings of Arcade Fire's usual production suspect, Markus Dravs.

Murphy has a big thing for David Bowie (his recent remix of Bowie's Love is Lost is tremendous), and Bowie for Arcade Fire. The man himself appears briefly on the title track; in turn, his influence is everywhere, nudging up to the shock of world beats, some shuffling dub reggae with what sounds like thumb piano (Flashbulb Eyes), a soupçon of punk, and those songs where Win Butler riffs on childhood and escape (Awful Sound), as he did on Arcade Fire's very first, and their most recent record, The Suburbs.

This should all make for an astonishing album, an opus of 2013. Since every track outstays its welcome by a couple of minutes it makes for a merely very, very good one instead. If the longueurs lag, the teases frustrate. Here Comes the Night Time revs up into a clatter of frenetic Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms before cravenly wussing out and dropping to half-speed.

If the world ever needed another outsider anthem there is the heroic Normal Person, in which Butler takes on childhood bullies and the workaday cruelty of conformism. At four-and-some minutes, it's relatively straight and to the point. Elsewhere, there are great swaths of padding – extra choruses, digressive workouts that should flex the muscles but merely prolong closure. The price for this long-windedness is the loss of impact of what should be killer blows on an album that should be as vital as Butler's ode to music itself on Here Comes the Night Time: "a thousand horses running wild in a city on fire".


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Arcade Fire: Reflektor – review

Arcade Fire's latest is clearly meant as a great, big statement record – but in fact it's too big, and just not that great, writes Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

24, Oct, 2013 @2:33 PM

Article image
Arcade Fire – review

As their masked alter egos the Reflektors, Arcade Fire are short on the spirit present in the Haitian music they revere, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

17, Nov, 2013 @12:05 AM

Article image
Arcade Fire | Live review

No one conjures up a din with quite the emotional power as Arcade Fire, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

10, Jul, 2010 @11:04 PM

Article image
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Arcade Fire's acutely observed third album, The Suburbs, is enthralling, and rich with drama, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

31, Jul, 2010 @11:05 PM

Article image
Arcade Fire: We review – a welcome return to form
Beauty, bleakness and euphoria collide on this record of two halves

Phil Mongredien

08, May, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Paul Morley on music: Arcade Fire
The Montreal-based septet will be out to prove that a band's all-important third LP can retain the capacity to surprise, writes Paul Morley

Paul Morley

31, Jul, 2010 @11:06 PM

Article image
Arcade Fire: Everything Now review – partying all the way to the apocalypse
Win Butler and co counter the excesses of global infotainment with a rousing mix of disco, electropop and killer tunes

Kitty Empire

30, Jul, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Arcade Fire – Reflektor: New music

After teasing details of their fourth album over the last two months, Arcade Fire have finally put some new music online ... and very good it is too

Michael Cragg

10, Sep, 2013 @11:00 AM

Article image
James Murphy wants to work with Arcade Fire
LCD Soundsystem leader reveals he missed two opportunities to collaborate with the Montreal band

Sean Michaels

08, Jul, 2010 @10:11 AM

Article image
Arcade Fire – review

Arcade Fire are driven by a fierce desire to make a visceral emotional connection with their audience as demonstrated by this surging show, writes Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

02, Dec, 2010 @9:31 PM