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Posted on October 31st, 2013 (9:00 am) by N. Neal Paradise

Fame does funny things to your head. Having so much adulation directed at you, especially as quickly as most music stars get it nowadays, makes you feel great at first, and then makes you question how much of it is real and how much is fake. Then you start asking that question about everything else in your life. The last stage is asking it about yourself.

Few know what I’m talking about better than Arcade Fire. It’s only been nine years since they showed up with their deliciously odd mix of rock, symphony and bloodletting emotional honesty. That was 2004, the year of their first album, Funeral—it was a roaring lamb, a mountain-leveling colossus in the form of a gentle breeze. They skyrocketed from small clubs to near-ubiquity with alarming speed. Time Magazine called them “Canada’s Most Intriguing Rock Band,” and it wasn’t long before every critic was composing a sonnet for them.

Their fourth album Reflektor has been hyped like few albums ever have. The first glimpse came with a strange design painted on a Manhattan wall, which turned out to be the Reflektor logo. A YouTube music video followed, for first single “Reflektor.” Right after a bombastic SNL performance, a half-hour special was aired called “Arcade Fire in Here Comes the Night Time,” a kind of concert film with AF performing in a mutated Studio 54-like setting with guest appearances from the likes of James Franco, Bono, Rainn Wilson, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, and Bill Hader, to name just some. Finally, the entire album was “leaked” by the band a few days before the street date.

Hype aside, Reflektor is a masterpiece. First and foremost, it’s an expansive contemplation on fame and the existential questions in demands be asked. Comparisons can be made to The Wall, though it’s much brighter and more hopeful (besides having a much more satisfying ending). Secondly, it uses the classical myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to speak about the nature and consequences of loving with all your heart. Reflektor was recorded mostly in Jamaica, after Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s short trip to Régine’s homeland of Haiti. The Caribbean influence is strongly felt in places, most notably in “Here Comes the Night Time.” But greatest in my mind is the setup as a double album, with the more upbeat and intense numbers on the first disc and the sadder, more contemplative songs on the second. When a little thought is put into the structure of an album, it goes a long way.

Leading track “Reflektor” is Arcade Fire’s most brilliant gem in a crown that includes “Wake Up,” “My Body is a Cage” and “Month of May.” It’s toe-tapping, undeniable rhythm and strident intensity is matched by its artful and incisive lyrics. “Reflektor” is a contemplation of all the potential “reflections” in our lives. Use any example you like: religion, success, romance, etc. Is it real, or “just a reflector”? Plus, David Bowie provides guest vocals. How cool is that?

Likewise, “Normal Person” questions the realness of standard behavior. What do you do when “normal” is for people to be cruel, petty and self-serving? “Porno” is a cry for authenticity in this age of fraudulence and masquerade. And “Joan of Arc” uses the legendary girl warrior seer to illustrate total devotion in the face of unbeatable odds.

The second disc contains “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over,” two songs that deal specifically with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The songs present them as archetypes only, using them as stand-ins for a much more personal story of love spoiled by differing expectations. But a gem hidden at the end is “Supersymmetry,” which harkens all the way back to the days of Funeral. Consider these lines: “I know you’re living in my mind / It’s not the same as being alive.” Funeral was about the pain of losing loved ones; Win and Will Butler as well as Régine all lost grandparents during the recording of that album. Here, finally, in “Supersymmetry,” is the completion of their grief, the final step in the process that leads to healing. It also plays the role of representing Orpheus and Eurydice’s tragic end.

Reflektor states clearly that Arcade Fire’s path only goes up, as musicianship and depth of meaning go, and it also challenges the notion that you can only get by in the music world by sacrificing your integrity to the gods of public opinion. The oversized heads Arcade Fire wear in the video for “Reflektor” are a testament that none of this falderal of the music market is real—love, connection and the heart are real. Here, here.

Track List:
1. Reflektor
2. We Exist
3. Flashbulb Eyes
4. Here Comes the Night Time
5. Normal Person
6. You Already Know
7. Joan of Arc
8. Here Comes the Night Time II
9. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)
10. It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)
11. Porno
12. Afterlife
13. Supersymmetry

Reflektor
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

87 / 100
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