November 18th, 2013 | Features | 0 Comments
I don’t want to make this too long.
This is Arcade Fire‘s best album. It’s big, sprawling, epic, ambitious, but focused, and in every conceivable way it just works. It returns the band to the darkness they first visited on Neon Bible, but James Murphy and the dancefloor influence brought to this album make it sound different – and more propulsive – than anything the band has done up until this point. Admittedly, the emotion and honesty of Funeral do not make a return; the lyrics may be the most lacking aspect of the album, though they’re still solid for the most part. But that was then, this is now. And on its own terms, this album knocks it out of the park big time.
The precedent for this album – despite what Owen Pallett says – is London Calling and Sandanista! No other album in memory features a super-white band trying their hand at musical styles as distant as Carribean music with anywhere close to the success that Arcade Fire achieve here. There’s also rock songs, pop songs, dance songs, krautrock, other stuff. And it all just works. The songs are all like six minutes long – but they also just work, because the band and/or Murphy apparently never run out of ideas of ways to keep things interesting and exciting.
I like the first half of the album better. It starts with some long intro thing that’s all arty – I’ve listened to it but I skip it when I re-listen to the album. Most of the heavy hitters are on this side – “Reflektor”, “We Exist”, “Normal Person”, and “Joan Of Ark” stand out in particular. Most of these songs could serve as centerpieces for lesser albums, but here they’re each just another track. “Normal Person” I find especially interesting because it’s got great lyrics but the very thing that makes me enjoy it less might be the most brilliant aspect of it. I’m sure I’m wrong about this but the song features a big, loud, blunt guitar sound blaring out the songs main four chords during the chorus, and every time I hear it I think 1) this is one of the most boring aesthetics they could’ve used for this song 2) maybe the use of the big guitar is kind of a snarky joke on the part of the band, as in this is the sound a “normal person” wants to hear in radio rock song – just big, blaring guitar.
The second half, as Pitchfork wrote, is more ‘airy’. The songs are not as sonically ‘grounded’ or memorable for the most – part – they’re still very good. Here “Afterlife” does seem to serve as a centerpiece of sorts, providing the big, beautiful flagship track for the side before allowing “Supersymmetry” to close things in neat, logical, shimmering fashion.
Is there much to the whole Orpheus referencing the album makes? I don’t know if it’s as deep as we’d like it to be – you sojourn into the underworld to bring your love out of it. I suppose it could serve as a metaphor for the album itself in that it’s a wealth of beauty that resides sonically and moodily in the underworld. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. A big deal doesn’t need to made out of it. Arcade Fire brought their A-game to this one. As in the A-game brought their A-game. They sound excited. All the hype-work they did around the album seems to confirm that impression, though it doesn’t need to. The sounds on this album are made by a band that’s not sounded this alive in almost a decade, when they sounded more alive than any other band on Earth. Maybe they needed to go to the underworld to pull it off again. But man, they totally did.