Arcade Fire's 'Reflektor': What the Critics Are Saying

 

After taking home the Grammy for Album of the Year with their 2010 record, The Suburbs, Arcade Fire returned to the recording studio on a demonstrably high note. But while pressure to raise the bar weighed on the band, it did little to hamper production of their fourth studio album, Reflektor, out Oct. 29.

With the support of co-producer and former LCD Soundsystem member James Murphy, Reflektor was positioned to exceed audiences' expectations. The work draws from a litany of cultural influences such as the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, represented in the album's cover art. Considering Reflektor's ambitious goals and epic themes, it's perhaps appropriate that the two-disc album runs for 75 minutes -- but with such length comes the responsibility to deliver.

Reflektor is laden with tacit promises, both to fans and to polarized critics who hold the band to high standards in this week's "What the Critics are Saying."

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"Reflektor drags in parts," writes Billboard's Chris Payne, "though it contains plenty of moments … that sound ready to breathe life into the muddling state of commercial rock in 2013." Acknowledging the struggles bandmembers faced throughout their post-Grammy production, Payne remarks that Arcade Fire "sounds as if they're claiming their destiny of becoming the world's most wholeheartedly ambitious rock band."

Rolling Stone's David Fricke touts Reflektor as "the best album Arcade Fire have ever made." Fricke credits "the jarring, charging union of Murphy's modern-dance acumen and post-punk sabotage with Arcade Fire's natural gallop and ease with Caribbean rhythm" with the album's triumph. The critic proceeds to describe Reflektor as "a thrilling act of risk and renewal by a band with established commercial appeal and a greater fear of the average, of merely being liked."

"Arcade Fire, like few bands in its generation, still upholds the idea of an album as a full-length statement, not a grab-bag of potential singles," the New York Times' Jon Pareles contends. Pareles regards the philosophical and social undertones of Reflektor with due admiration. "The songs move through love, rebellious self-affirmation, a struggle to stay together, and, at the end, a ghostly mourning."

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Critics consistently cite Murphy as a driving force of Reflektor's distinctive appeal. Kitty Empire of The Guardian writes that the album "really sounds like it was produced by [Murphy]," labeling Reflektor as "pure disco death: a pulsating, electronic work, heavy of theme, but light on its feet." And while many critics accept the album's length as a thematic feature of the band's creative expression, Empire accuses Arcade Fire of "long-windedness," which leads to a "loss of impact of what should be killer blows."

The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot gave Arcade Fire 3 out of 4 stars for their latest release. "If a record can sound simultaneously lighter and more disturbing than anything the band has done before, Reflektor qualifies," Kot notes. In a shift away from "the more linear rock approach of earlier albums," Arcade Fire has pivoted toward "something weirder and more rhythmic" with Reflektor. "The double-album pumps up the groove, flirts with the shadows, and lets the songs zig, zag and run on and on, not always for the better."

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