Reflektor, more than perhaps any other double album, is one of two distinct halves – so distinct they could, in fact have been two different bands, or at least one band in two very different places.
The first disc – starting with lead single ‘Reflektor’ – is still very obviously an Arcade Fire album, but at the same time is completely different. James Murphy’s involvement is immediately apparent, giving the sound a new, dance feel; if you didn’t know Murphy was producing the album you would by the end of the opening track. Talking of the end of the track, it could certainly do with coming a few minutes earlier. This is one of the main problems with the first disc, with most of the songs requiring a much harsher edit than they received.
Many of the tracks on disc one then follow this same pattern. It’s a complete departure from the violent, folk-tinged indie rock that has, admittedly, never been as strong as it was for debut album The Funeral. The Funeral was a record of strong tracks, working together to create the best sense of place and time it is possible to hear on an album. On Reflektor’s first disc we have seven largely forgettable alternative dance tracks – which almost always outstay their welcome.
Arcade Fire still show their class throughout, however. There are still moments of greatness – ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ is a stand out – but even these are marred by questionable decisions. Bizarre intros and outros and rapid mid-song shifts of rhythm or style all seem part of an attempt to elevate the album into a somewhat unstable level of “art”. Instead it falls into rather baffling pretension, and dilutes the moments of absolute greatness (“A thousand horses running wild in a city on fire”), forcing them into isolated fragments of what could have been.
The second disc is a completely different animal. It’s best not to take the band’s previous body of work into it at all, because that will lead to disappointment. Instead, listen with an open mind as if to an unknown entity. Although it is still a complete departure from previous albums, these songs just work in a way nothing from the first disc can hope to.
While the ear begs for disc one’s tracks to end before their time, here you want them to run on past their six minutes; so interesting is the sound. It’s experimental, yes, but instead of being ‘forced’ dance beats it becomes beautiful. The songs fit their mood, the music fits the beat. If, on the first disc, the beat tramples over the songs, it lifts them here – gently, carefully. Gone are the strange intros, and in their place are builds and swoops. Often out of place, but comfortably so. Comfortingly so.
The call and response of ‘Awful sound (Oh Eurydice)’ and ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ are the high points of the entire album, and possibly the best tracks that the band have ever released. In the second disc the album finally opens out and becomes a whole. Everything from the first beat of ‘Here Comes The Night Time II’ to the very end of the (sure to be divisive) hidden track is beautifully crafted and absolutely deserving of all praise that the album will, inevitably, receive. Worth all of the hype, despite its baffling and arguably unpleasant first half.
4 stars ★★★★✰
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