Ever since Arcade Fire‘s “surprise” win for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards a few years back, anticipation has been sky-high for the inevitable follow-up to 2010’s The Suburbs. (I say “‘surprise'” because the other nominees were Eminem 2.0, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, and Katy Perry. Yet given the Grammys’ track record of not awarding anywhere close to the best music, it actually was a bit of a surprise, even if it was more of a relief.) Fast-forward to three years later, and Arcade Fire has finally unleashed Reflektor, a 75-minute double album, on the world. The decision to spread the album across two CDs is curious, since CDs can hold 80 minutes of music, but Arcade Fire has always been a band that has favored the overblown, for better or worse.
Their 2004 debut, Funeral, is still their best LP because it’s the least overblown of their albums, even if its signature track (“Wake Up”) certainly is. With each successive album — and as the band’s stature has grown — Arcade Fire have gone “bigger,” first with 2007’s Neon Bible, which sounded nothing less than absolutely huge and borderline ridiculous in places, and then with 2010’s 16-track, 64-minute opus The Suburbs, Arcade Fire tempered their sound somewhat but still couldn’t find a way to deliver it in a package that didn’t suffer from some over-sprawl. And now we have Reflektor to pore over — all 75 minutes of it. Truncated to just 13 tracks, most of the album’s songs are quite long, with the second-disc closer “Supersymmetry” topping out the set at just over 11 minutes. But is the music good enough to warrant such preposterous track lengths? Not especially.
I would place Reflektor somewhere in between Oasis‘ Be Here Now and Led Zeppelin‘s Physical Graffiti. Reflektor‘s champions will argue that it belongs in the category of the latter, while I can’t help but see it as a non-disastrous Be Here Now. And Reflektor really isn’t a disaster by any means — it has some good tracks like “We Exist” and “Normal Person” — but it definitely suffers from some bloat. Seriously, some of these songs — including the title track — are just too long. And the lackluster production doesn’t help. I don’t know what it is about Arcade Fire albums, but they never sound right — there’s never any bass to the sound. I don’t know if that’s a conscious aesthetic choice, but it always sounds like we’re missing like 20-30% of what’s there, as if the lower frequencies have just been deleted.
All that being said, I do find a lot to enjoy about this album, even if it is a mess instead of some kind of grandiose statement. It’s not boring by any means (I even enjoy the “Revolution 9”-esque coda to “Supersymmetry”); it’s just a flawed follow-up from one of the most vital bands in today’s contemporary music scene.