“And where do we go / Where do we go,” asks Arcade Fire’s vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne on “Afterlife,” one of the new tracks from the Montreal-based indie rock band’s latest album, Reflektor.
The question of where to go, at least musically, was one that Arcade Fire must have ruminated upon quite a bit after receiving their Album of the Year Grammy award for their 2010 album The Suburbs. After all, they shocked the music world by beating out the likes of mega pop stars Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, the American country pop of Lady Antebellum and the prolific rapper Eminem.
This accolade saw them become one of the biggest and most important rock bands in the world as they were able to, if only for one February night at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, drive a stake into the heart of the ugly and bloated monster that is the pop music industry.
Where the band should go next was also a question many longtime fans found themselves anxiously pondering – would the lure of mainstream adoration corrupt the band? Would the sweet taste of popular acceptance subvert Arcade Fire’s powerfully independent music into something watered down and commercialized?
Reflektor, a double album, which was co-produced by the band itself and DJ James Murphy – the brainchild of the now-defunct alternative dance band LCD Soundsystem – is a 75-minute-long emphatic “no” to the question of whether Arcade Fire would reign in their creativity and attempt to cash in on their newfound fame.
One almost feels pity for the average music fan, who may purchase the band’ new album simply due to this post-Grammy recognition. Reflektor, – which features an image of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the Greek mythological characters of Orpheus and Eurydice – is the antithesis to mainstream music, as it is deep and hard to define. It is long and sprawling – the moods and sounds of the album change constantly over the course of its two discs.
Whether it be the neo-disco funk and the post-modern lyrics of the title track, which features vocal assistance from longtime Arcade Fire fan David Bowie, the straight ahead rock n’ roll attack of “Normal Person,” the dancehall dub of The Clash-inspired “Flashbulb Eye,” or the ‘80s pop sounds of album highlight “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” Reflektor is an album that shuns the acceptance of the mainstream and retreats into the familiar realm of the band’s challenging and eclectic childhood influences.
Perhaps the one complaint that can be levied against Reflektor is perhaps it’s too ambitious. Several songs go on longer than they should – “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” comes to mind as well as album closer “Supersymmetry,” which takes nearly six minutes too long to come to an end. Despite being a bit long in the tooth, Reflektor is a sigh of relief for longtime fans of the band. Instead of basking in the glow of their Grammy win, Arcade Fire have decided to venture off down a darker and more experimental path.