After all the guerrilla marketing campaigns, the teaser videos that just wouldn’t quit, the Bowie back-up vocals, the bobble-heads, “secret shows,” cryptic-punk SNL featurettes, fake cover bands, critic Achtung Baby posturing and incredulous silence from Arcade Fire until about a week ago when Win Butler cited Haiti, Carnival, Greek Mythology, an essay by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard entitled “The Present Age,” that spawned “the reflective age” lyrical theme, if anything at all, “Who Is Arcade Fire?” should get an award for generating more buzz than a Radiohead album. Attention won.
Though this here being music and not gospel – they skewered that on Neon Bible, anyway – Reflektor, the band’s fourth record, is what it is – which is a sprawling, 76-minute reach at the band’s biggest ideas to date, framed in its most overt form, as the cover art suggests, around the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is basically an OG version of Romeo & Juliet set in hell, and substituting trust for poison. The rara Carnival inflections that Butler experienced with his wife, Régine Chassagne, while visiting her native Haiti lands blush from time to time and the Kierkegarrd “reflective age” gets a shout out from the get-go. But at the end of the day, this is a tale of love and its place amongst the human condition.
Do all the sub-themes matter? Yes. “Here Comes the Night Time” takes aim at the bullshit guilt of Haitian missionaries trying to the sully the rawness of music as the great communicator. “Reflektor,” and “the reflective age” are detrimental to the modernization of the overarching theme of love and the value system we all subscribe to. “Porno,” although crude and left-field, is essential to the dénouement, with its declaration that although love is real and everything, it is a disease as well, setting up a series of songs that are some of the most beautifully cathartic sentiments strung together this year.
There is one piece of fat, and that is “Joan of Arc,” mixing one too many elements of history and a sonic sore thumb compared to the lush, new disco cacophony strides the band has woven into their militant indie-rock choral backbone here to narrate their tale. Otherwise, Orpheus looks back like he’s destined to do, and Eurydice is lost, but the questions asked of love on the remaining 12 tracks are not meant for single consumption. And very well may eclipse Funeral as the band’s most defining statement.
Indie-cum-global syncopated royalty brigade one-up Daft Punk‘s disco ballian romanticisms with a near 8:00 meditation on love salvaged between shadow and light of the “reflective age,” lacquered a pristine Talking Heads sheen w/ LCD icon on knobs and Bowie in the background working comeback tension: [LISTEN]
Would’ve made an epic credit roll for The Sixth Sense, as ultimate indie-rock therapy for proverbial elephants in any room. But in the realm of arcade aflame’s LP4, with its back-alley pulse and modular key and string swirl, makes “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Reflektor” seem like halcyon days: [LISTEN]
Grungy dub for the paranoid set, morphing into a Haitian Voduo assurance from Butler that y’all got nothing to hide really, should the ancient photography proverb be true, and the lens does in fact take a thieving shot at the soul, rhythm section gone satiably cosmic as the ‘flashbulb eyes’ strike: [LISTEN]
Another nod to Haiti simmers in this rara-calypso stab at organized religion to bleed a little existentialism, AF twisting a glorious knife-dance in the “night time,” when area prophetic missionaries cease condemnation of the peoples and music, the great communicator, and Arcades are left to Flame: [LISTEN]
King Talking Head evocative, as Butler may find himself in another part of the world, or in a beautiful house, asking behind AF’s own garage-Funeral searing rock way if he’s cruel enough to be a normal person, a perfect heel-kick on an album called Reflektor, tailing a track about existentialism: [LISTEN]
The genius of Reflektor near takes off its mask for a brief Suburbian handclap and jangle sonic moment, as the Eurodyce and Orpheus theme that binds the album puts Side A into perspective, introduced by one of Butler’s darkest moments and sub-contextualized with a pair of lovers’ catharsis chase: [LISTEN]
As raucously thrash and thump vindictive as it is, narrator comparing a love to history’s greatest martyr, infer all day metaphorically about how time and emotion forever bend and somehow fit the “reflective age” or Orpheus‘ strife – it’s the one piece of thematic fat that should’ve gotten trimmed: [LISTEN]
Back to cinematics, Side B opens with AF’s song-sequel themes of yore, lulled string and synth blissfully as Orpheus, the sub-God of music, could imagine, rethinking the existential crisis and religious guilt of its predecessor like a fading hangover, and setting up the LP’s two greatest successes:
Back to hand-drum militant reworkings of rara-Haitian street leanings, so goes the first part of Reflektor‘s crowning achievement, reaching the core of both the “reflective age” and Greek Myth arches with a flowering, Beatlesque heart-tug from the ache of star-crossed lovers. Enter Orpheus:
Orpheus turns around like he’s destined to do, and loses Eurydice forever, AF getting crunchy synth and riff demonic with the moment of star-crossing – Chassagne on the angelic bridges haunting “it’s never over,” completing the metaphor of its lead-in, love outweighing everything. Enter Eurydice:
Saving this slithery key-hopping finger-snap from coagulating into the same off-theme fat as “Joan of Arc” is its placement after the sprawling Orpheus–Eurydice combo, its allusions to the humanity of man – i.e. Orpheus – and its summation that although love is real and everything, it is a disease:
Should Reflektor truly walk like an Achtung Baby, “Afterlife,” with disco DNA and trademark AF militant choral rhetorical yearns of filling the space that love occupies after death is giving “One” a run for its cathartic money, Butler-Régine ‘carrying each other’, then strutting, over Bono tears: [LISTEN]
The sweeping coda was “Afterlife.” But those in the business of love and understanding, or the mirror-particle nerdness of supersymmetry, know the best part of a climax are the minutes that follow, AF U2 ballad-building again to bookend what happens to love when it’s gone, in the reflective age: