Arcade Fire don’t know it yet, but they are currently in the throes of a creative death spiral. Reflektor, their fourth, is a bloated, disengaging, self-important yawn of an album.
The build-up to the record release was long and arduous with spray-painted logos on the sides of buildings, Saturday Night Live performances, self-effacing video promos, etc. The album, too, mirrors that lagging wait. The morsels of song goodness are buried in a sea of wafting production layers while the ‘skip’ button always beams in the eye corner.
The album, puffed out to 85 minutes and 14 songs, is split into two halves–a wise choice. The flatulent girth of Reflektor makes it a very tedious listen in one sitting.
When every song is stretched out beyond it’s intended structure the impact of brevity is lost. Every single song, even the two that clock in under three minutes, is a total slog. It’s like quicksand to the ears. Each track gets stuck in its own groove, then remains suspended in said groove for an average of six minutes. There are no grand reconstructions mid-song, only a drawn-out, absorption of the same tired phrases and weak-as-hell rhythms. Little loops and tides wail along, but the groove remains.
The only songs to actually benefit from this formula are “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” “Porno” and “Afterlife,” but unfortunately they don’t appear until the very end of the album, all in one clump.
Singer Win Butler tries out his best David Byrne impression and gets achingly close on “Normal Person.” The song could be one the Talking Heads jammed for about two measures two decades ago, but promptly threw out. It’s this albums’ “Rococo” (from The Suburbs), as far as total meaningless lyrical overreach. “Is anything as strange as a normal person?” he asks before examining his own social reality. Just boring.
On “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” Butler has the same pained quiver best used on “Ocean Of Noise” from Neon Bible. Here, though, light bongos put-put in the background and the break-down is so slight and lifeless, it makes this reviewer’s head just want to roll right off its’ neck.
“Here Comes The Night” moves with a slow drip of senseless plucking piano until the drums show up and pummel the same exact chorus. “You Already Know” is limpid and pale beyond repair and “Joan Of Arc,” which ends the first half, flat out sounds like shit.
There are those good morsels, though. A nice low-down groove anchors “We Exist” and the rising chorus is more reflective of the group’s sonic characteristics. The bass line rotates and the nah-nah-nahs are ethereal. The most quintessential Arcade Fire sound here is heard on “Afterlife,” somewhat catchy and emotionally bittersweet, while “Porno” has a slick downtrodden buzz that is the brightest spot on the record.
The truly disheartening part of Reflektor is that it could’ve been whittled down to a strong, compact 10-song album and then it’d be worthy of the praise that’s been wrongfully heaped upon it. Maybe this is what happens when a group wins Album of the Year after releasing two classics of millennial indie rock: Funeral and Neon Bible.
The Suburbs, which won the Grammy and thrust them before a new, wider audience, ironically, started the group’s current creative stagnation. That album and this new output lack the emotional urgency that made their first two so warm and sufficiently listenable. If this is the plateau Arcade Fire find themselves stumbling on going forward, you can count me out.