The ambition Arcade Fire brings to each of their albums has been building like a crescendo all throughout their nearly decade long career. The shouted emotional catharsis of their debut “Funeral” was soon swept into the string sighing, world weary themes of “Neon Bible.”
Next came the Grammy award winning, 16 song concept album “The Suburbs,” complete with multi-part suites and a Spike Jonze directed short film.
So, of course, the next logical step in the Arcade Fire’s ascending and dominating rock music path would be to make a double album that abandons rock music altogether.
“Do you like, rock n’ roll muse-ic?” lead singer Win Butler asks a fake crowd on mid-album standout “Normal Person.” It’s his next statement before the track takes off that gives the listener a peek into his headspace: “cause I don’t know if I do…”
Abandoning the string heavy, baroque leanings of their previous work, Arcade Fire strive for hip swinging, conga infused pop on “Reflektor.”
On the title track, a thumping disco beat pulses calmly in the background. Guitars and brass swell during the chorus into a loud groove as Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne whisper about an entry blocking “reflector.”
The next 12 songs deal with the idea of affection in our modern age being blocked by our reliance on technology to “reflect” our feelings to each other. Meanwhile, the tunes also directly reference the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice as muses for this modern age concept. Sounds foot tapping, right?
Arcade Fire has always succeeded in producing joyfully teary songs of pain and loss. Here, they take a different approach with the same subject matter, hoping to convince you to hustle rather than pump your fist.
Their strong sense of earnestness is still in tact despite the sweaty club rhythms. That same title track still boasts wide-eyed lines like “our love is plastic/we’ll break it to bits” and “we’re so connected/but are we even friends?”
Elsewhere, songs like “We Exist” and second single “Here Comes the Night Time” dance to the same groove. On the latter, a yawning synth drone is cast against the childlike vocals of Butler and Chassagne. A swinging tropical piano further casts an innocent mood over the song.
A closer listen reveals an accusatory rant against the politics of the big man upstairs.
“They say heaven’s a place, yeah, heaven’s a place and they know where it is/But you know where it is?/It’s behind the gate that won’t let you in.”
Butler further argues against the promises of religion and advocates the freeing, nonpolitical magic of music. “If there’s no music in heaven/then what’s it for?” he jabs.
The new wave indebted “Porno” finds Butler lamenting the use of the title’s subject by young boys and the future effects on adult relationships.
Closer “Supersymmetry” is a beautifully delicate 10 minute stretch of gentle synths and strings with Butler and Chassagne sending the listener off with a lullaby of mournful loss.
Overall, “Reflektor” is a successful experiment. While some fans have complained about Arcade Fire’s decision to embrace the sometimes groan worthy tradition of disco, the band’s earnestness and overall dedication to dancing away life’s biggest questions is still in tact. It won’t change your life like “Funeral” or “Neon Bible” can, but it’s sure to be the catchiest thing to hit your social consciousness all year.