I bought tickets to see Arcade Fire perform at the Pepsi Center today. I did this with a heavy heart, not quite sure if I wanted to see them perform in such a large arena. But then I decided that it would still be a great experience, especially since I am going with someone who has never seen them before. No matter what you think about Arcade Fire’s trajectory from the underground to the Grammy’s, you can’t take anything away from their live shows.
This prompted an email debate about Arcade Fire’s new album. I didn’t think much of Reflektor until a few days ago, but on the fourth or fifth listen, it really hit me how good it is. I have some friends who don’t agree. So forty emails later, I went back and listened to their entire discography. This is a summary of the notes I sent to my friends after doing so…
Funeral – should have ended with “Rebellion (Lies)”. “In the Backseat” is the only reason this is not a perfect album. But I’m just going to call it perfect and leave it at that. One of the best albums of the past decade.
Neon Bible – is a good album, but it feels more like a collection of songs than it does a cohesive album. It has quite a few great songs, a few ok songs and a few duds. I think all the arguments you made against Reflektor could be made against Neon Bible…they really became a different band on this album. As great as a few of the tracks are, it is still a disappointment after Funeral. A good album, but I’d always go back to Funeral before going back to this.
The Suburbs – sounds like it was written as a full album (with quite a bit of filler). Lyrically, it is superior to Neon Bible. The themes make it the logical follow up to Funeral, but it is way too upbeat musically. It’s too happy. And when it’s not too happy, it’s too simple. “Rococo” is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Although there are some good tracks, this is definitely my least favorite album by them. It finishes stronger than it begins, but I feel like I forget almost everything about it as soon as it ends. This is the album where they sound like they are dumbing it down to appeal to a broader audience. I guess it worked. It did win them a Grammy.
Coming directly off Suburbs…
Reflektor – starts off HUGE! I know where your EDM comments come from, but it sounds more like spaced-out Bowie to me. The title track might be their darkest, most frightening song ever…all while being arena-ready. There is a ton of 80’s pop influence throughout this album, but it always stays on the darker side of the road. Even when it’s danceable, it is still scary and ominous. They also threw some Beatles and Stones in here, but somehow it still feels like a single piece of work. Besides the Oingo Boingo ripoff, “Flashbulb Eyes”, I have nothing but good things to say about Disc 1. “Normal Person” and “You Already Know” wouldn’t stand up on their own, but they work well here. Evidently a lot of the album was influenced by their trip to Haiti – I think that’s where a lot of the dark elements come from – those sounds are all over “Here Comes the Night”. You can almost hear the voodoo ceremonies happening around a bonfire. Disc 2 brings the album into the light of day, but it’s kind of refreshing after the first half. “It’s Never Over” is a little drawn out, and the unnecessary 11-minute closer can be cut off, but other than that I can still enjoy it — although maybe not as much as the first half. Overall, this is my second favorite Arcade Fire album.
Reflektor is definitely a different side of Arcade Fire, but every album they have released has reflected a different side of the band. Funeral was their indie (almost punk) album, Neon Bible was post-mod, Suburbs was indie rock with some singer-songwriter/folk thrown in, and Reflektor is something else entirely.
As much as I love Funeral, I wouldn’t want them to make it again.
I like where they are headed.