Highlights: Reflektor, Here Comes The Night Time, Normal Person, Joan Of Arc, Afterlife
If there is an art-related release in the whole of 2013 that’s been more wildly anticipated than Morrissey’s autobiography, look no further than Arcade Fire’s new album. Christ people went mad over this one. I don’t even know what part of the demographic was more annoying; those who were so determined to hate it, those who were bursting with premature love (best since Funeral, etc.), or those who kept repeating how disinterested they were in the whole thing. I’d argue that the last group seemed particularly exasperating: if you are so disinterested, get off of it already.
And besides, I think Arcade Fire have generated enough excitement over the years to justify some kind of interest on the part of music-listening world. At the very least they don’t just write songs. There’s artistic growth. There’s development. There’s a song called “Porno”. There’s James Murphy. And there’s of course that album cover.
Speaking of which, that’s as far as I will go with it. Let’s just assume we can all see it and that no one is ever going to beat it by placing Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo on the front sleeve. So, after the fact, was it worth it, the hype, the anti-hype and all that other cheap nonsense that doesn’t have anything to do with the actual music? It is a hands-down yes for me, Reflektor indeed being Arcade Fire’s big, initially misunderstood Kid A moment. Because at first there’s going to be confusion. Rolling Stone will give it the perfect rating. Others will give it a cautious grade of seven or seven-and-a-half. The Guardian will let it share the same measly 3 stars (!) with Katy Perry’s (!) latest. Etc., etc. And presently I feel like I’m standing ten inches from an elephant while trying to figure out what it is that I’m seeing.
It takes an effort. Because at this point it’s hard to say whether these songs are better than the ones that made up The Suburbs. I’m guessing not. If you strip a track as brilliant as the title track of its dense sound, of its groovy instrumental section towards the end (possibly my favourite thing about the song), you won’t be looking at much really. The melody is nice, but “Rococo”? “Modern Man”? “Suburban War”? And yet such is the nature of music (music as an art form) that goes beyond elements and details. The plot is undercooked, the actors are a little all over the place and the locations feel wrong – but the film is just so damn overwhelming. At first you try to make sense of all that mess that seems so intriguing, intricate, inventive. Reflektor sounds like some kind of a patchy kitchen-sink drama created by a truly intelligent mind. There’s just so much going on here; with James Murphy as an unlikely supervisor, it’s dancey and funky and groovy and never lightweight. And thankfully – regardless of sound changes, it still sounds like Arcade Fire: driving and grandiose. Lengthy, too, but when “Normal Person” (lyrically this one overdoes the pretentious element ever so slightly) rocks so much, “Here Comes The Night Time” offers so much blood-pumping variation and the heartbreaking and anthemic “Afterlife” sounds so affecting – I’m ready to take it all in. It’s intense and wonderful, even if by the end of it I might still (sigh) prefer the more concise and, when you come to think of it, no less impressive Funeral…
When you review stuff on a regular basis, you sometimes have to leave the reading, listening (hell, on occasion even watching) part of it for the streets and the underground. I know it worked so well back when The Suburbs was released and I just kept it on repeat. But here’s the odd thing: I never, ever get the urge to listen to Reflektor the moment I leave my house. There is something to it I guess, and I refuse to see it as a problem. Because every time I found I had some time to spare, sat in a chair, put my headphones on and pressed play – Reflektor sounded fantastic.