Arcade Fire, 'Reflektor' review

3 stars (out of 4)

After ascending from scuffling Montreal band (2001-03) to Internet sensation (2004-05) to Grammy-winning arena rockers (2011), Arcade Fire presses the reboot button.

“Reflektor” (Merge) – the title itself suggests mirrorballs spinning inside a disco – takes to the dancefloor. In its disruptive sprawl, it echoes the fourth albums by the Talking Heads (“Remain in Light”) and the Clash (“Sandinista”), both issued in 1980. If a record can sound simultaneously lighter and more disturbing than anything the band has done before, “Reflektor” qualifies. It’s a tale of two albums: one bold and propulsive, the second slower, less focused and more problematic.

Arcade Fire pushes away the more linear rock approach of its earlier albums for something weirder and more rhythmic. The double-album pumps up the groove,  flirts with the shadows, and lets the songs zig, zag and run on and on, not always for the better. Eight of the first 12 tracks clock in at more than 5 minutes, and an 11-minute electronic bubblebath of sound finishes things off.

Much was made of the band’s collaboration with producer James Murphy, who masterminded LCD Soundsystem, but Murphy insists that by the time he started working with the sextet it was already pushing in this beat-driven, more blown-out direction. Still, the title track sounds like it could’ve fit alongside the Rapture and Black Dice on Murphy’s DFA label a decade ago with its bouncy bass line and house-music piano chords -- plus a cameo vocal from David Bowie, no less. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler asks no small questions, and he lays out one of the themes for this album: What is real? “It’s just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection,” he mutters, while the beat swirls around him.

“Flashbulb Eyes” continues the hall-of-mirrors effect, with its ping-ponging beats and reverberating tones suggesting a dub-reggae instrumental. The troubling refrain echoes from inside a cavern: “You know I’ve got nothin’ to hide, you know I’ve got nothin’.”

With its whip-crack guitars and rubbery bass, “We Exist” bounces uneasily toward cacophony, as noise overtakes the feel-good vibe. Butler declares his allegiance to outsiders, but with a sinister twist: “Down on your knees, begging us please, praying that we don’t exist.” The conformity-bashing restlessness in Butler’s narrators ties in with music that flips the traditional rock hierarchy, by pushing Jeremy Gara’s drums and Tim Kingsbury’s bass into the foreground of the mix while the vocals compete with noisy keyboards for space.

Drums hurtle and bass lines belch like foghorns amid the distorted vocals and brittle guitars of “Here Comes the Night Time.” A crude, rock ‘n’ roll swagger animates “Normal Person,” with Butler hissing, “And they will break you down until everything’s normal.” The band fights back on “You Already Know,” with its skipping Motown beat, and the punky “Joan of Arc.”

The hooks arrive more reluctantly on Disc 2. It’s built around two tracks tracing the travails of that ancient Greek power couple Orpheus and Eurydice. In “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” a slow, woozy sing-along is shattered by the sound of a jet screaming toward a crash. But mostly the slower-moving, more contemplative songs fail to shake off their ghosts. “Porno” echoes the sparse, Gothic electro-pop of Depeche Mode and “Afterlife” conjures New Order’s proto dance-rock, but neither track boasts the melodic flair of the earlier bands. And the snoozy “Supersymmetry” is an epic downer.

The finish provides a slow comedown from the buzz of the album’s first half – which by itself ranks with Arcade Fire’s best, most challenging work. The textural experiments of Part 2 can’t keep pace. Or as Win Butler might say, a reflection of a reflection of a reflection.



Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River is three acres of overgrown weeds and shrubs. It is referred to by some as a "ghost park" because it is hidden in plain sight.

  • Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    There's a fire starting in my heart and it's making me realize it's been kind of a while since Adele released an album. Her last full-length "21" dropped in 2011 and I barely remember that year it feels so long ago. But now, there's some good news to fill our recently Adele-less lives and it's...

  • Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated his claim Tuesday evening that he would stop eating Oreos, citing the cookie maker's decision to close a plant in Chicago and move it to Mexico.

  • Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Don't get me wrong, Justin Bieber is still really embarrassing. He's the young pop star who recently said something only a 21-year-old would say, "Now being 21, and going through some hardships, I think you can hear that in my vocals." This is a guy who, last year at a charity gala benefiting AIDS...

  • Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    After years of struggling financially, Susan Rick thought things were looking up when her boyfriend won $250,000 from the Illinois Lottery last month. She could stop working seven days a week, maybe fix up the house and take a trip to Minnesota to visit her daughter.