It must be hard to follow up the 2010 album of the year, but leave it to Arcade Fire to do so. Their last album “The Suburbs” was a fantastic concept album about isolation and the mundane. It reached the top of the Billboard charts, a milestone for indie rock at the time. Now they’re back with “Reflektor.”
The new album does not stray too far from the lyrical content of the previous three, and that isn’t a problem—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What Arcade Fire has done, however, is teamed up with former LCD Soundsystem frontman and producer James Murphy. This collaboration has given “Reflektor” an infusion of disco that has surprisingly worked out well, making the band sound like Murphy’s old band and their main influence, The Talking Heads. This is the most radical shift to Arcade Fire’s sound since their second album, “Neon Bible,” which was orchestral and gothic where “Reflektor” is prankish and lively.
The album kicks off with the title track, a disco-styled punk song questioning satisfaction with the answers we are given. It is full of riffs, horns, and even a small cameo from David Bowie. The excitement and energy sets up the rest of the album perfectly. “Here Comes The Night Time” is a piano-filled song which sometimes sounds like Vampire Weekend crossed with the tropical resonances of singer Régine Chassange. “Normal Person” questions what defines normal and how society tries to destroy originators; it’s the most aggressive the album gets with huge riffs.
The second half of “Reflektor” is more atmospheric and orchestral beckoning back to “The Suburbs” and “Neon Bible.” The reprise of “Here Comes The Night Time” is orchestral and dark as the title would suggest. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” is almost reminiscent of their debut “Funeral” with heavy acoustic guitar and choral vocals. The standout of the second half is “Afterlife.” The song opens with Win Butler singing, “Afterlife, oh my god, what an awful world,” denouncing the belief of a Christian afterlife. The song questions the belief that there is something more after death. Its lyrical content is somewhat dark, but the music is disco-filled and glittery.
Typical of Arcade Fire, “Reflektor” tackles the issues of being social in the modern era. Butler and Chassange seem to be navigating the perils of living in line with any sort of belief or conformity. It is the new approach into disco punk that give their brilliant lyrics in the same way that Passion Pit masks their dark lyrics in glittery synthesizers, except “Reflektor” does it better by being equally dark and cheery with both lyrics and music. Arcade Fire keeps the old while allowing something different and new to invigorate what they already had going for them.
Also out this week: Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time” and Action Bronson’s “Blue Chips 2.”
Nick Dye, Music Writer