The release of Reflektor, the fourth full-length studio release of Canadian indie superstars Arcade Fire, is nearly upon us. After the Grammy awards and stadium tours that followed their last album, The Suburbs, expectations have been astonishingly high for their follow-up. Fans’ excitement only mounted with the news that the LP would be produced by James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem fame, whose music has reached a similarly iconic status. After a viral campaign centred around the band’s new alter egos, The Reflektors, and the release of the brilliant title track, including a cameo from none other than David Bowie, the anticipation reached fever pitch. As if that wasn’t enough, the last week has seen the album leak, then be released early by the band themselves on Youtube, then get taken down from Youtube, all while eagle-eyed British fans have been spotting posters for gigs across the UK by The Reflektors themselves, as part of some sort of secret tour.
Details about that tour are still slowly emerging, as fans around the country are spotting and tweeting the posters. Dates have so far been confirmed in London, Blackpool, and Glasgow, all in November, but there are almost certainly more to emerge. The posters stipulate that costumes or formal attire are mandatory, the same requirement made for the band’s recent secret gigs in North America. Sites such as Gigwise have questioned just how secret the shows really are, and it’d be understandable to worry that the ‘secret’ element was nothing more than a viral marketing gimmick, a way to increase demand ahead of the almost inevitable arena tour down the line. One thing’s for sure though — for those fans hoping to see the band in smaller, more intimate venues, this is a golden opportunity.
It would be easy amid all of that for the album itself to be a bit overshadowed by its own buzz, but according to early reviews, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you love it or loathe it (and there have been critics in each camp already), this is clearly not the sort of album that induces indifference. Rolling Stone called the album the best of the band’s career, going so far as to compare it to U2′s Achtung Baby and Radiohead’s Kid A, two albums that represented major, and successful, artistic turning points in each band’s careers. Pretty Much Amazing take a similar approach, but instead compare Reflektor to Radiohead’s OK Computer, calling it a record that rather than representing a sudden tonal shift is instead a progression from their last release, combining a good dose of experimentation with tuneful accessibility.
Murphy’s production lies at the heart of most of the comments about the band’s new sound, as his propulsive electronic sound, heard on lead single “Reflektor”, marks a significant departure from the band’s sonic trademarks. What hasn’t changed, however, is songwriter Win Butler’s penchant for tackling heavy themes, moving from discussions of Haiti’s political climate to pondering what really makes someone normal. Reflektor may have less of a cohesive lyrical theme than the band’s previous efforts, but that seemingly hasn’t stopped Butler from aiming high with his often poetic lyrics.
Not everyone has been impressed so far, however. The album is a 75-minute double release, which might give you a clue as to one of the main gripes raised by critics. With only four of the record’s 13 tracks sitting below the 5-minute mark, it’s easy to see why some critics have asked if it couldn’t do with a bit of editing. Clash complained of the additional two minutes and protracted outro included in the album edit of the title track crippling an otherwise strong track, and raise a rare complaint about Butler’s “tired metaphors”. Attracting particular ire from critics (and really, who can blame them?) is the album’s finale, which consists of six minutes of the sound of a tape being rewinded. Thrilling stuff. Considering that the album as a whole sits only one minute beyond the limits of a single CD, it’s hard not to feel that a particular effort was made to drag things out to warrant the rather impressive sounding ‘double-album’ status, but sometimes less really is more.
Love it or hate it, it doesn’t look like you’re likely to forget Reflektor any time soon. It’s either the overblown, egotistical collapse of a band who’ve let mainstream success get to their heads, or the triumphant turning point in the career of a band who’ve built success on top of success. Same difference, really.
Arcade Fire gave an exclusive 2-part interview to CBC Radio.