As opaque as it is unwieldy, Arcade Fire’s 75-minute double album Reflektor isn’t the kind of record you can make sense of in a single sitting. Picking up on themes of isolation and death explored in Marcel Camus’ 1959 film Black Orpheus, and influenced by the existentialist philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, it is also, curiously enough, a dance-floor record – though clearly not one modelled on the feel-good tics of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.
On the icy, Talking Heads-like title track Win Butler’s wife and the co-frontperson Régine Chassagne sings in French about the kingdom between the living and the dead. Elsewhere, the stark, propulsive We Exist concerns departed souls and the 11-minute closer Supersymmetry – all bubbling synths and void-like atmospherics – finds Butler offering “I know you’re living in my mind / That’s not the same as being alive.”
Death has been a lyrical staple for these Canadian indie giants since 2004’s Funeral, but, musically speaking, Reflektor constitutes a bold reinvention. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy steps into the production chair alongside Arcade Fire and their long-term aide Markus Dravs, and his lurching, queasy synthesisers and lovingly distorted textures stand shoulder to shoulder with the band’s spiky indie guitars. David Bowie also guests, making a fleeting appearance on the aforementioned title track.
Though the album’s arrangements are thrillingly original in places – processing the radical time-signature shifts on Here Comes The Night feel a bit like stepping on a stationary escalator you’d expected to be moving – some of the songs seem long-winded and wilfully esoteric. It comes as a relief, then, when You Already Know transpires to be a buoyant, melodically immediate nugget with shades of Prince’s When You Were Mine.
Another of the record’s recurring themes is a dissatisfaction with the trappings of fame, hence the dub-reggae influenced Flashbulb Eyes finds Butler whinging, “What if the camera/really do/take your soul?” The answer that comes to mind is, “Then deal with it”! He is, after all, a very wealthy man whose day-job is the envy of millions, not a native American Indian whose spiritual beliefs are being compromised.
You have to admire Arcade Fire’s daring on Reflektor, but in places it sounds like the work of a collective ego unchecked; the kind of record that ultimately languishes on the shelf because it’s so user-unfriendly. Having listened to it three times, I’m in no hurry to do so again.
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