1. Arcade Fire doesn’t do small. With every album, their scope has gotten bigger and bolder, and it’s not as if they were an petite band in the first place. They’re indie rock, and all its trappings, in name only — their expansive songs are meant to be heard live and loud and speak for everyone, to be played in a massive venue. In that sense, Reflektor is a massive success. It almost seems unfair to judge the record as is, because until you’ve heard “Flashbulb Eyes” surrounded by 20,000 people, the way it was meant to be heard, you’re only getting half the experience, like listening to a stereo album in mono.
2. I’m assuming. I unfortunately wasn’t one of the negative-three people who got tickets to their recent shows, but I’ve heard the Colbert performances and watched the grainy YouTube clips. It’s immediately clear that the really good studio songs on Reflektor will sound even better in concert; the mediocre ones, too, while improve, coming alive with an intensity that was too often left behind in Jamaica and New York. Unfortunately, there’s a fairly even balance between the two, the good and the meh. You’ve heard the best the album has to offer — the title track, the funky “Afterlife,” the new wave passion of “You Already Know,” the uneasy strutting in “Normal Person” — but especially in the middle, the endless disco-lite-via-end credits orchestration, if you’ll forgive the pun, sprawl longer than they should, failing to bubble from heat that never comes rather than overflow from passion.
3. That’s the gift and curse of the multi-disc album, though. Take the Clash’s Sandinista! — half the fun is parsing through it to find the gems hidden amongst the endless dub. Reflektor is a similarly ambitious album; not everyone will make time for it, but for those who do, they’ll get to the “good” part of “Porno,” when Win sounds at his most paranoid, and the beauty of “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice).” But only after they skip the too-precious “Here Comes the Night Time II.”
4. So, if Reflektor is Arcade Fire’s inevitable “experimental album,” and it is, was the experiment successful? Yes, but with a giant asterisk. Criticizing Arcade Fire for going TOO BIG seems defeatist — Arcade has always wanted to be as big as U2 (there’s a lot of Zooropa in Reflektor) — but a tightening would have helped. Take the title track, for instance. For the first five minutes, it’s outstanding, the best song the Talking Heads never recorded, but with David Bowie and James Murphy (whose “Us vs. Them” was an obvious inspiration). Then it goes on for two-and-a-half more minutes. Again, in person, this could be thrilling; ever since LCD Soundsystem left, the world could use more intellectual dance-rock. But through headphones or speakers, the song sags under its own weight, the rhythms lost to synth and strings. That’s true of other tracks, too, like “Joan of Arc,” which is only five minutes long, but feels like it should be three or four. There are a lot of great ideas on Reflektor, but too many of them get lost in the vastness.
5. But holy sh*t is “Normal Person” a great song. What do you guys think? The stream’s here.