Curiosity must have hit some people when they saw Arcade Fire perform for “Saturday Night Live” on Sept. 28. It was the first televised performance of Arcade Fire since they concluded the tour of their 2010 Grammy-winning tour de force “The Suburbs” and since they began a curious ad campaign behind their upcoming album. Something seemed very off: these were the faces of Arcade Fire, but no one could recall them in such a strange style. Wearing black, sparkling matador-like jackets and dancing like the group of awkward white kids at a high school prom, the band performed a new track backed by a disco beat, horn section, a sampler and a robot dance inside of a funhouse mirror-type box by Régine Chassagne. This was certainly not the same band the world saw three years prior. The Canadian collective, who have become one of the most acclaimed and popular indie rock acts of the 2000s, have built their reputation on big anthems about youth, loneliness, mortality, hope and freedom. They play every instrument from a viola to a glockenspiel to a hurdy-gurdy (yes, that last one is a real name for a real instrument) and have audiences from around the globe chanting with them in concert. “The Suburbs” even won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011, and the band has fans in everyone from David Bowie to Dwight from “The Office.” So if all of this is the case, who dared to tamper with Arcade Fire (if not the band themselves), and why in the hell would the band fix what is not broken?
Credit for that should go to James Murphy, the savior (and king) of dance-rock and the leading member of the now defunct LCD Soundsystem, who produced Arcade Fire’s latest release “Reflektor” with Markus Dravs and the band themselves. Music-wise, “Reflektor” is a radical departure from the Arcade Fire formula. Basing their music on the album around Haitian Rara music, Arcade Fire tries to create a more lively sound. That is definitely the case on songs like the title track and it’s twin “Afterlife.” “Porno” is a great synth-based track out of a cool 80s movie, whereas “Joan Of Arc” sounds like a spacey Black Keys single. “Here Comes The Night Time” is a creepy but bright romp with jittery piano sections and a rubbery bass line, and “We Exist” sounds like Arcade Fire typically empowered, but not sweating their fears as much as normal. This is a great and impressive stretch for the band to make and all of the dance-like, electronic-laden songs work.
Lyrically, however, this is pretty much the same Arcade Fire fans know and love. There is the questioning of love and isolation in the title track (“Now the signals we send are deflected again/ We’re still connected, but are we still friends?”). Awkward music nerds have yet another Arcade Fire anthem in “We Exist” and it’s opening charge of “Walking around with a head full of sound/ Acting like we don’t exist/ Walk in a room stare out through you/ Talking like we don’t exist/ But we exist.” Even the tale of Eurydice and Orpheus is turned into two back to back songs on the record. Even if they wore disco balls on their heads, Arcade Fire are still earnest storytellers making the small words of the young, the big anthems of the world.
Despite a few unnecessary interludes between songs and an 11 minute closing track that could have been cut down to 8 minutes and still be fine, “Reflektor” is another outstanding album by one of rock’s most outstanding acts. There really is nobody out there like Arcade Fire, and they seem to take great pride in that fact. If anything, “Reflektor” is a fitting title because no matter what you throw on Arcade Fire’s look or sound, you are still going to see Arcade Fire in the reflection. Murphy’s presence on the record is heard through the disco backbeat, whirring synthesizers and altered vocals, but nothing can stop Win Butler and company from preaching to their youthful followers. Now, they can just preach in a New York City dance club.
Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars