Album review: Arcade Fire, Reflektor

By Russell Baillie

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Russell Baillie reviews Arcade Fire's sprawling new album, Reflektor.

By the time 2014 and their second appearance at an Auckland Big Day Out roll around, we will have had a decade of Arcade Fire. The Montreal collective led by the voices of Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne helped usher in the big-strum folk-rock boom with their brilliant 2004 debut Funeral.

They consolidated their position as a band that matched artistic ambitions to stadium-sized reach on 2007's Springsteen-esque Neon Bible followed by 2010's The Suburbs, a cinematic set that was ambitious in scope but safe enough to win them the Grammy for album of the year.

This time, though, the band which started out in left-field has made the biggest left turn of their twisty career.

With Reflektor, a double-length album of 13 songs, they've largely dispensed with the marching drums, the mandolins, the accordions and the other rustic accessories for an album that throbs with the sort of conga-accompanied dance synth-pulse that ... well, the sort that underpinned the music of Reflektor co-producer James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem (various Arcade Firepeople were among the backing vocalists in the LCD farewell concert movie Shut Up and Play the Hits).

And just as Murphy had a thing for David Bowie, so does this - Bowie himself turns up halfway through the opening and title track for a vocal cameo. We can but hope he'll reprise the role at the BDO.

But the seven minutes-plus of that first song embodies all the thrills and faults of what's to follow. Like that track, the rest of the album is musically upbeat, while frequently contemplating the great beyond which ties it neatly to the lyrical themes of Funeral. But like that track, it can occasionally sound like other people and it doesn't quite know when to stop.

Yes, holding this album back from being a fully brilliant reinvention is that a little too much of it just goes on a bit.

The finale Supersymmetry clocks in at more than 11 minutes and runs out of steam along the way. Most of the other tracks are six minutes-plus on an album that sags in its final third.

Still, there's a great single album within. It's somewhere among the reggae lopes of Flashbulb Eyes and the Talking Heads-ish tropical-funk of Here Comes the Night Time.

It's somewhere in there in among the more conventionally rock moments like the twitchy Normal Person and Joan of Arc which gets a big glam-beat. And it's certainly in there in the blazing disco-rock of We Exist, a song which is likely to cause its own early evening dust-storm when delivered at Western Springs.

Those who warmed to the pastoral grand designs of Arcade Fire's early days might initially be left cold by much of this. But even with the merry dance it leads us on, the better parts of Reflektor are up there with the band's best.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: Folk art? Let's dance
Click here to buy Reflektor by Arcade Fire.

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- NZ Herald

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