Arcade Fire – Reflektor
“Thought you were praying to the resurrector, turns out it was just a Reflektor,” Win Butler repeats into the mic— a line from single, “Reflektor,” ironically talking of falling short of adored pop culture icons. Whether you love them or hate them, it seems these days it is impossible to ignore Grammy winning, Indie Rock icons Arcade Fire, as their success from 2010’s The Suburbs threw them into the rough of the public eye. If that wasn’t enough, the publicity campaign for Reflektor, their fourth full-length studio record has been splayed across all forms of media for the world to latch onto. There was an obvious sense that this band was after something big: and at 85 minutes long, Reflektor is definitely large, but has this group bitten off more than they can chew?
The answer to that question is complicated, and while others may turn to the band’s obvious influences and sonic similarities for the solution, I think the answer lies within the music itself. There are some interesting tracks on Reflektor, more so on the latter half of the album than the first. Second track “We Exist,” stands out immediately in its driving synth line that promotes the ‘dance’ aspect of their sound that the band has been allegedly aiming at. The song builds to a graceful crescendo complete with beautiful string work in the background and Butler’s voice stretched to its peak in emotion, bleeding through the effects on it. Later on you have “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” that brings out the clear cut snarling guitar back and “Porno,” which is a slower number laden in synth whose chorus and twists and turns in the lyrics beg your attention.
These are some of the moments on this record when the overproduction hasn’t squeezed the life out the sound and where you can still recognize the band, but those instances aren’t there a great deal of the time. If you were to receive this record with no expectations, from a band under the moniker The Reflektors, it would be easier to enjoy. As a fan, it’s really difficult to get behind the overall lack of lyrics, emotion behind the vocals, when the past three LPs, as different as each are from one another, were chalk full of those aspects—that was what drew me in. All in all the record feels a bit hollow: Butler’s voice is distant and flat in instances when you want emotion, (“Afterlife”), the lyrics are a little simple and repetitive, (“Flashbulb Eyes”), and the songs drag on, (“Awful Sound”). Reflektor is not an awful record, but it certainly doesn’t live up the hype, nor the glory that this band has made for themselves.
Trust me, I have long had a guiltless adoration for this band, and it brings me much pain to write a review so critical of simple people who sing and talk and play music about a reflective age in which everyone is terrified to create for fear of ridicule. I muse that was what Butler was aiming at when he wrote those lyrics I quoted—when we glorify artists, we forget that they are just people with lives of their own and they don’t exist to make music for us. That being said, I am left to wonder why would you invite, then, more of the general public and the media to consume your material when you have already gained worldwide acclaim? Why did Arcade Fire buy into the very thing—publicity they have long claimed to despise—when they could have just let the music speak for them? Perhaps a lack in the actual substance of Reflektor is the reason.