Let’s get this out of the way: Reflektor is easily the worst thing Arcade Fire have done. It’s a conclusion that runs counter to the crushing hype, the immense buildup, the crazed fanaticism that has surrounded the impending release of the band’s fourth proper album. And, honestly, there aren’t many groups that deserve such attention more than Arcade Fire. Their first three records are all brilliant, easy to categorize as Great Albums. The group’s apex was their beloved and emotional debut Funeral, but the subsequent releases nearly reach the same dizzying heights.
To date, the Arcade Fire experience has often been about Big Moments. From the start of Funeral, their songs have been packed with dramatic crescendos, pretty strings, driving rhythms, and obvious plays on the listener’s emotions. Luckily for us, the game plan always worked. “Wake Up” was a a U2-sized anthem and it was impossible to keep from falling in love. Neon Bible’s “Keep the Car Running” played like a wiser version of the band, giving a darker, deeper sound. Even the concept-oriented The Suburbs ensured that the message and the music were linked, be it in the flourishes of “Rococo” or the Blondie-homage “Sprawl II.”
On Reflektor, there’s just something missing, something that doesn’t feel up to par for Arcade Fire. The sound and the statements don’t align perfectly, the ferocity and the emotional heft are missing. The problems start with the album’s length. Like too many double albums, the cliched bloat rears its ugly head. The opening song and title track “Reflektor” is a pleasant-enough Talking Heads-type jam, but it carries on for over 7 minutes. There just isn’t enough here to keep your full attention; an abbreviated version would accomplish the same thing without the threat of stagnation. It’s good, but just not focused.