Arcade Fire is not a terrible band. There, I’ve said it. It’s not just the post-post-(post?)-irony speaking up in me either—I legitimately think, for all their cloying earnestness, poached influences and downright dumb lyricism, there’s a golden band buried somewhere deep under all the pseudo-intellectualism and indier-than-thou posturing. Funeral is proof; even now, some nine years later, it still mostly rings true, thanks largely to the now distinctly non-Arcade Fire lack of polish, as well as nostalgia that wanes on the far side of preachy. Maybe it’s just that death is a less furtive muse than how lame the suburbs are or, god forbid, the Bush administration.
Reflektor, the group’s fourth album, does frustratingly little to gauge the band’s creative relevance post Grammy win—which, like it or not, will always be a likewise frustrating part of the conversation from now on. They’ve certainly rebounded from a creative low. Where The Suburbs dragged on with track after track tied together with the lamest of thematic pursuits (“The business man’s drinking my blood/Just like the kids in art school said that he would” should be the definition of jumping the shark), Reflektor at least pops with newfound enthusiasm at every turn.
First single and title-track “Reflektor” is a menagerie of disparate disco and artsy new-wave influences, which ultimately cohere into something shiny and new. “Here Comes the Night Time” verges into reggae sensibilities while “Normal Person” adds enough punk crunch to Win Butler’s ridiculous musings (you’ve never met a normal person, Win? Really?) to make it one of the better cuts on the album. Then there’s “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” and “Porno,” both of which ride their glammy ’80s disco influences into genuine greatness, generally blowing away the rest of the record. Reflektor’s overlong and it has its share of clunkers (“Afterlife,” “Joan of Arc,” “Awful Sound” and the sound collages, to name a few), but it’s got enough starry-eyed pep to justify repeat listens.
The most aggravating part of the whole affair though—and still Arcade Fire in general—is how excruciatingly important the group seems to think they are. Butler spends the album whispering all manner of generalized profundities without a hint of either sincerity or insight—everything’s just been reduced down to one big eye roll. Butler’s favored himself a sort of mock-preacher for a while now—since at least Neon Bible—and while it’s nice to hear an Arcade Fire song that isn’t concerned with “us kids” and what we know, it’s equally grating to hear Butler sing on and on about how computers are driving us apart for almost two hours. It still all feels pedantic, angsty, immature and, worst of all, like the “big message” is the center focus—but, of course, this “big message” lacks anything resembling actual wisdom. If there’s anything that’s ever really been truly pretentious, so sure of its own value and prevalence without anything at all to back it up, look no further than this.
But hey, if you can wade through all the lyrical muck and a few lame tracks, you’re going to have yourself a pretty good time with a band that, for better for worse, is going to be talked about for years to come.