You Already Know

I suppose anyone at all interested in Arcade Fire has already heard Reflektor, but after two weeks of listening to little else I thought I’d note a few impressions here anyway. I also thought about gathering up a list of links to all the reviews I’ve read during my obsession with it, but too many are far too dismissive. A year from now they’re going to look as wrong-footed as any number of Robert Christgau’s old C- reviews of now-classic albums.

It’s a great album. Indeed, a great double album: it has the landmark feel of a Quadrophenia, an Aerial. I wouldn’t shave off a single second of the supposed excess some have been bagging: not the disc-two reproduction of that intro noise from old tapes (instant nostalgia), not the hypnotic outro of “Supersymmetry”, and (having finally figured out how to rip it) not even the pregap hidden track on the first CD, although that’s the appropriate place to put it.

Over that frustrating weekend between the Friday when the full-length stream was briefly available on YouTube and the Monday when we got hold of the album proper, I re-listened to their back catalogue. It’s hard to find many flaws in it; Funeral wasn’t as monumental for me as for some, but “Rebellion (Lies)” takes some beating; Neon Bible has some less-compelling moments, but “Black Mirror” and “No Cars Go” are a mighty sound; and The Suburbs was my album of 2010. Reflektor may not top The Suburbs (I’m back and forth about whether it does), but if not then it’s certainly its twin peak.

Side two is particularly strong; “Afterlife” and the Orpheus and Eurydice duo are sublime, and “Porno” reminds me of This is Hardcore-era Pulp, a band who have also worked with James Murphy lately. But my favourite section is the one-two punch of the title track and “We Exist”. The reviewers who keep calling the latter “cocaine disco” are going to encourage a whole new generation to start snorting the stuff: it’s an addictive sound, particularly when the bridge dissolves into a warm pulsing bath at the 3:30 mark. Murphy’s production complements the band’s exploratory urges perfectly; they may be doubting their devotion to rock music (“Normal People”), but there’s no doubting the results.

Arcade Fire aren’t the only ones wondering about the state of rock; apparently rock songs declined from around 15% of UK Top 10 singles in 2001 to 1.5% in 2011, with pop and R&B taking up the slack. But if any band can enjoy a post-rock afterlife, on this evidence Arcade Fire surely can.

10 November 2013 · Music