“It’s just a reflection of a reflection,” sings Win Butler at the beginning of Arcade Fire’s sweeping fourth album, Reflektor.
As reactions to fame’s tantalizing, soul-sucking facade go, it’s pretty succinct.
The follow-up to the Canadian indie rock collective’s Grammy-winning 2010 LP The Suburbs expands upon the vivid anxieties of its predecessor, which have been magnified, refracted and dressed up in hopeful colors for this riotous, 85-minute, 13-track extravaganza.
Spread across two discs and perfumed by a humid cloud of influences ranging from Kierkegaard and Black Orpheus to the grungy, downtown New York City art-rock scene of yore, Reflektor is nothing if not daunting.
But that palpable ambition makes it almost impossible to turn away.
Butler and his collaborators have spun away from The Suburbs’ earnest, widescreen rock and made something that wouldn’t seem out of place in an early ’80s discotheque, reportedly pulling inspiration from Greek mythology (the story of Orpheus, who could charm anything with his music, and his wife, Eurydice) by way of Haiti, where Regine Chassagne’s family has roots.
What sounds like chaos on paper is masterfully synthesized into a powerful meditation on the crush of celebrity, the idea that caring — about anything, but most of all yourself — is still valid.
None of the heady intent would matter if the songs weren’t irresistible — the title track rides a sultry disco beat and thorny guitar to great effect; Here Comes the Night Time evokes a carnival that could last for days.
Arcade Fire is at the top of its game, expanding its bold sonic palette to incorporate a distinctly tropical hue. And while the band could’ve lost 15 to 20 minutes’ worth of material (mostly in the second half) with minimal damage to the overall effect, there’s something admirable about Arcade Fire seizing its one true opportunity to swing for the fences.
Too many bands play it safe after gaining prominence, afraid of alienating all their new friends.
Arcade Fire, true to its detractors’ accusations of pretentiousness, employ flourishes sure to set eyes rolling — Chassagne delivers several lines in her native French; the album is nearly as long as some feature films — but more of the record feels earned than not.
Simply put, Reflektor is a masterpiece of mood, feeling and meaning from one of the most important rock bands of the last decade.