Album Review: Old and New
Arcade Fire - ‘Reflektor’
by Bradley Hartsell
(Editor’s note: The Newnan Times-Herald is launching a feature looking at albums old and new and finding the common thread between them. Today, we look at Arcade Fire’s 2013 release “Reflektor” and how the mix of disparate styles is reminiscent of David Bowie’s 1977 “Low,” one of 1970’s most essential records.)
When Canadian rock band Arcade Fire won a Grammy in 2011 for “Album of the Year,” there was a mix of confusion and wild appreciation. Many had never heard of the band or their Grammy-winning album, “The Suburbs.” But to those who knew of the band, it was a huge victory. It was the Grammys rewarding a band more interested in its art than selling records, which “The Suburbs” didn’t do nearly as much of as someone like Katy Perry.
Arcade Fire debuted in 2004 with “Funeral,” one of the most revered, independent rock records made in the past 25 years. They mixed the rousing storytelling of Bruce Springsteen with a skilled six-piece mini-orchestra. On their first three albums, you wouldn’t call them a rock band in the way you’d call Led Zeppelin a rock band, but even with a viola and xylophone on some songs, they still rocked.
On Oct. 28, 2013, Arcade Fire released “Reflektor,” and to the shock of everyone who had followed the band up to their Grammy win, the album had more in common with disco than it did rock and roll.
In every way, “Reflektor” is ambitious. It’s a double-album more than 75 minutes long. The band almost completely sheds the foot-stomping anthems that won it a Grammy in favor of slick-sounding disco beats, orchestral arrangements, horns and keyboard.
Some criticize the album for being messy and unfocused, which isn’t unfair since it’s nearly an hour-and-a-half long. But “Reflektor” still turned up on almost every major Best Album of the Year list and is the sound of a band in metamorphosis, trying on the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s and new-age pop. Basically, anything but rock music, which seems to be on the way out for many major artists. “Reflektor” instead sounds like a wide array of artists that came before, like New Order and even a little bit of Daft Punk, who helped bring disco back to the forefront with the 2013 megahit “Get Lucky.”
Arcade Fire had never been hard to get before. They sung pensive but igniting songs about coming of age, politics and suburban life. On “Reflektor,” frontman Win Butler hides behind icy arrangements that sound like they’re being transmitted from some other era. Disco and synth pop are their tools now, and while they don’t always sound similar, the attitude of change and rebirth is reminiscent of David Bowie’s (who is a guest singer on the song “Reflektor”) 1977 landmark album, “Low.”
“Low” is smaller, more focused in its electronic influence than the scattered, more 1980s new-wave “Reflektor,” but both albums represent artists feeling tired and aching for something else.