Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflektor vs. The Suburbs


I've made no secret of my mild disdain for The Suburbs - it's not a bad album, but it simply isn't in the same class as its predecessors. Funeral was the rawly beautiful opening statement; Neon Bible expanded on that, reaching a little further thematically and clearing up some of the messier parts; I'm not sure what exactly The Suburbs was. For me, it never felt like a natural continuation of the Arcade Fire canon.

Fortunately, Reflektor does. If Funeral sounded like the Arcade Fire, and Neon Bible sounded like the Arcade Fire with more money and bigger arenas to sing to, then Reflektor is the Arcade Fire cutting loose and really exploring everything that they can be. There are duff bits, sure, but they're part and parcel of the big, pretentious double album experience. It's some experience.

It seems that some people don't like Reflektor's tendency to have a big jam when it should be serving up another of those rousing Arcade Fire anthems (e.g. Wake Up, Intervention). But I quite like the jams; Afterlife and the title track are two of my personal highlights, and they're both based around insistent musical patterns rather than lung-bursting choruses. Besides, I don't remember any big anthems on The Suburbs, except perhaps for City with No Children. If you ask me, Here Comes the Night Time is more of a classic Arcade Fire track than anything on album number three.

I haven't yet established whether or not this album has a proper concept or running theme. It sometimes seems like they're just touching on as many big subjects as they can, like religion (on Reflektor), sex (on Porno), death (on Afterlife) and fame (on Flashbulb Eyes and Normal Person) to name but a few. But this mish-mash still comes out sounding more ambitious than The Suburbs. A concept album about childhood and nostalgia and stuff sounds great on paper, but to be honest, I think it's slightly below the usual Arcade Fire focus. Less childhood memories, more ruminations on death and religion!

One more (slightly unusual) point: I feel like my favourites from Reflektor are the songs that I'm supposed to like. Reflektor, Afterlife, Here Comes the Night Time...these are clearly the record's big set pieces, the ones that the band intended to form the focus of every review and write-up. The equivalent songs on The Suburbs are Ready to Start, We Used to Wait, and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), none of which really rattle my cage. Without wanting to sound too hipster, I preferred the more marginal tracks like Empty Room (a short, sharp blast) and Wasted Hours (a quiet campfire song).

So yeah, for all of its faults, I think Reflektor wins this one. It's exciting, because it feels like the Arcade Fire are building a truly immense discography, the sort of thing that Stereogum will have great fun ranking from worst to best in a few years time.

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