Phil Mansell reviews the Montreal-based art rockers return with their triumphant fourth album ‘Reflektor’.

photo: HarshLight from Flickr

When Arcade Fire were announced as headliners for Reading Festival in 2010, many questioned the band’s credentials to headline such a prestigious festival. Yet they delivered one of the most accomplished headline sets the festival had seen in years. When they won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year, there were huge waves of incredulous despair that the award had been handed to an art-rock band who remained firmly outside the mainstream.

It is unlikely that those who questioned Arcade Fire for these two recognitions will be swayed by new release ‘Reflektor’. The album is a slight departure from their previous releases, with a distinct dance feel that much has been made of in the build-up to the records release. However, it is still a quintessentially Arcade Fire album. It is also the sound of a band at the peak of their powers, entirely unconcerned with how they are defined or viewed.

Weighing in around the 75 minute mark, there are naturally moments where the record feels slightly bloated, not least on album closer ‘Supersymmetry’. Five other songs are at least 6 minutes long, but yet are perfectly timed. The album is divided into two discs, both with differing personalities. Disc one is home of the disco vibes, which lead single ‘Reflektor’ exemplifies best. The Caribbean rhythms of ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ and ‘Here Comes the Night Time’, apparently influenced by spending considerable time in Haiti between albums, feel entirely natural and fit completely at ease with the other material on the album.

Epically dramatic arrangements that have become the norm for the band are ever present, and even when Butler and co. decide to rock out, it is done with an air of scepticism that only Arcade Fire could manage. Before launching into the devastating post-grunge riff of ‘Normal Person’, lead singer Win Butler asks ‘Do you like rock music?’, before answering ‘Cos I’m not sure if I do’. The song itself is a personal highlight of the album, and is perhaps the fuzziest, heaviest song on the record and that the band has ever released. It naturally lends itself to comparison with ‘Month of May’ from ‘The Suburbs’. They can do straight-up rock music nearly as well as anyone, and it is a treat when they indulge as such.

Disc two feels darker and murkier in both musical style and lyrical content.  ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ begins with an uplifting strings and keys arrangement (which actually sounds very similar to a mobile phone alarm) before dropping into an incisive guitar riff, complimented by a pulsating bass line. The melding of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne’s vocals is perfect, and works in direct contrast to the music behind them. The subsequent effect is that the chorus’ refrain of ‘Oh, it’s never over’ feels simultaneously like a warning and also something to be pleased about.

‘Porno’, whilst containing some of the least convincing lyrics on the record, floats along on a mesmeric keyboard beat, with Butler lamenting ‘I know I hurt you, I won’t deny it’. It is one of the more obvious love songs the band has released but it is still uniquely unconventional as love songs go.

So, ‘Reflektor’ is another fantastic album from a truly fantastic band. It shows a band that whilst lyrically still asking weighty questions, have developed to a stage where they can seemingly expand their musical repertoire at will, whilst remaining true to their own original style. It’s also an album which could drive the band on to headline Glastonbury 2014, and to win another Grammy. If either of these predictions come true, then remember where you read it first.