CRAVEN’S NOTES: Into the hole with the Arcade Fire
Free Press Music Columnist
The Fire still burns.
“Reflektor,” the latest (double) album by the Arcade Fire, was released last week. Over the course of about 75 minutes, “Reflektor” proves the old maxim: The more things change, the more they stay the same. And in the case of the Arcade Fire, that’s just the way you’d want it to be.
On first listen, “Reflektor” sounds very different from previous Arcade Fire releases, like “The Suburbs,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in August 2010, and which went on to win the “Album of the Year” Grammy the following February.
With LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy joining the band behind the production console, “Reflektor” shows an emphasis on dance rhythms mostly unheard on previous Arcade Fire albums. As has been widely publicized, this new direction came as a result of a visit by band leader Win Butler and his bandmate (and wife) Régine Chassagne to Chassagne’s family’s native country of Haiti. Inspired by a band the pair heard in Haiti, they decided to incorporate elements of Haitian “rara” music into their songs.
And yet, for a record marking a major musical shift for one of the most important rock bands of the modern era, it’s remarkable how much “Reflektor” sounds like … well, an Arcade Fire album. While the rhythms have diversified, there is still the anthemic presence layered over the occasional, playful flirting of Motown bass lines and, most of all, the brooding intensity of Butler’s lyrics that one has come to expect as the band marks its 10th year.
Butler has said in interviews that the lyrics on “Reflektor” were mostly influenced by the 1959 Brazilian film, “Black Orpheus,” with its themes of love, death and exile, and an essay written 167 years ago by existentialist Søren Kierkegaard. None of this is unfamiliar territory for the Arcade Fire (a band which, you will recall, titled its first full-length album “Funeral”), and Butler drew inspiration for previous releases from the poetry of William Blake and the death of Butler’s famous guitarist grandfather, Alvino Rey.
So far from seeming like an odd, right-angle turn or a mid-life crisis, “Reflektor” sounds to Craven’s ears like the inevitable maturation of an act that’s in it for the long haul. Old skin is sloughed. New corners are sniffed. A great band grows.
Some of the songs on the album are slow burners, and take repeated listens before they begin to burrow subcutaneously. Others, like “Joan of Arc” and “You Already Know,” are as juicy pop plums as “Where No Cars Go,” “Wake Up,” “City With No Children” or anything else the band has produced to date.
Whether today’s audiences will show the attention span necessary for a 75-minute double album remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure — with “Reflektor,” the Arcade Fire continues to defend its lofty perch in the rock pantheon.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook.
Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.
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